Vampire Shrimp (: Atya gabonensis): Aquarium Care Guide
Vampire Shrimp are an overlooked freshwater species that can add a lot of value to your tank. Their unique appearance, peaceful temperament, and filter-feeding nature make them one of our favorite little critters!
But their lack of popularity means many people don’t know how to care for them. These shrimp have some distinct requirements that differ from other species.
This guide will clear things up by going over all the essentials of Vampire Shrimp care. When you’re done reading it, you’ll be ready to go!
The vampire shrimp (scientific name: Atya gabonensis) is a beautiful recluse with interesting feeding behaviors.
Despite their somewhat menacing name, these shrimp are quite peaceful. They spend most of their time in hiding, only to come out at twilight and at night.
These shrimp are found naturally in West Africa and South America. They usually inhabit coastal freshwater areas. You can find them hidden among mangrove roots and other dense vegetation.
In captivity, vampire shrimp require many of the same living conditions. Naturally shy and reclusive, these shrimp are not the ones to keep you entertained. But if you do manage to see them outdoors, they’ll put on a unique display that you won’t soon forget!
Under good conditions, the average lifespan of vampire shrimp is about five years. This makes them one of the longest living shrimp species.
Author’s Note: They are said to live eight to ten years in the wild, but captive shrimp have an average lifespan that is slightly shorter.
That said, they can only reach their full potential in a well-maintained environment. Like any other species of shrimp, its environment directly affects its overall health. In unstable water conditions, they can experience life-threatening health problems.
Average Vampire Shrimp Size
The typical size of vampire shrimp is around five to six inches long. This is much larger than many other types of freshwater shrimp.
Not only are they longer, but they are also much bulkier. Most specimens sport a tough shell that offers great protection. It really stands out when you first see them!
Thanks to its larger size, it is easy to appreciate the beauty of the Vampire Shrimp. Take a close look at the invert’s body and you’ll notice several distinct features. Most notable are his fans.
This species is a fan-feeder. They capture food with large hair-like fans on their arms. You can observe them raising the fans to capture organic matter in the water for consumption.
As mentioned above, the shell is very thick and bulky. The general shape and construction of the shell closely resemble that of a crayfish rather than a traditional thin-bodied shrimp.
On his legs, you will notice bumpy spots. These points cover the sides of the legs. On the lower legs, they have a single larger point. This unique physical characteristic is said to help the shrimp cling to rocks or plants to stabilize themselves in strong currents.
In terms of color there is a lot of variety with Vampire Shrimp! Most shrimp will be a light bluish-gray hue. However, this color can change to darker shades of blue, full white, reddish brown, or pink.
Their colors can change several times throughout the life of the shrimp. However, their color largely depends on their age and environment. Those kept in darker environments tend to have a more intense color.
Author’s Note: When young, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between male and female vampire shrimp. But once they reach about three inches in length, those differences become more apparent.
Males are generally larger than females and have thicker first pairs of legs. Meanwhile, females have larger abdominal plates.
Vampire Shrimp Care
Proper vampire shrimp care is all about providing a well-maintained environment that meets their needs.
They are a bit more demanding than the average freshwater creature. However, their care requirements are fairly easy to understand once you get some practice.
Below are some important care guidelines to keep your vampire shrimp in good shape.
The ideal vampire shrimp tank size should be at least 20 gallons. While some aquarists have had success keeping them in a smaller tank (15 gallons are often mentioned), we believe the larger aquarium will make a big difference in the long run.
These shrimp depend on microorganisms, plant detritus and other organic elements in the water to eat. Bigger tanks are more conducive to that sort of thing. Filters in small tanks are very efficient and leave the environment too clean for shrimp.
A 20-gallon or larger tank also provides enough bottom space for shrimp to roam. You can easily create multiple hiding places for the shrimp while keeping the rest of the tank open for other life forms.
Vampire shrimp are not too fussy when it comes to water conditions. They can tolerate a wide range of parameters without experiencing any problems.
The main things to worry about are ammonia and nitrate levels. Like other species of shrimp, vampire bats are very sensitive to the effects of biological debris. You should fully cycle the tank before adding your shrimp and equip the aquarium with a powerful filtration system to keep ammonia levels undetectable.
Regular water changes are a must. It is also important to test the parameters regularly. to make sure the underwater habitat is suitable for your shrimp. Here are some water parameters to follow.
- Water temperature: Between 74°F and 85°F (aim for the middle of this range)
- pH levels: 6.5 to 7.8 (a neutral pH level is best)
- Water hardness: 3 to 10 dKH
Creating a safe and comfortable environment is important to the vampire shrimp. These invertebrates do best in natural-looking habitats filled with dense vegetation.
Start by creating a layer of sand substrate at the bottom of the tank. The sand is soft and suitable for digging. Even fine gravel could damage the shrimp’s delicate feeding fans, so it’s best avoided.
Next, add lots of rocks and driftwood. Create little pockets and crevices for the shrimp to occupy.
Author’s Note: They will spend most of their time during the day hiding in these areas, so give them plenty of options.
At this point you can add plants to the tank. Use live plants instead of plastic plants. Living plants naturally shed organic matter into the water, which is the perfect food source for vampire shrimp. There are no essential species.
Mix several species of plants to get the look you are looking for. Add some taller-stemmed plants in the back, fine-leaved plants in the foreground, and some moss for ground cover. Get creative and turn the tank into a plant oasis!
For the team, the most important thing to remember is the need to create a strong current. You can get a high powered filtration system to keep your water moving. Alternatively, submersible pumps also work well.
Point the pump to the side to circulate the water. Don’t overdo it. You will need to find the right balance to create a subtle current in the tank. Don’t make the current so powerful that it makes life difficult for shrimp or fish!
General disease potential
Vampire shrimp can experience a handful of health problems, with bacterial and fungal infections being the most common.
Once bacteria and fungal spores enter the closed environment of your tank, they can wreak havoc on the health of your shrimp. Infections can attack dead tissue before spreading to other parts of the body.
Parasitic infections are also possible. The most common parasite is Vorticella, which usually enters a tank through plants and rocks. When your shrimp ingest the plant matter, they are also unknowingly eating the parasite.
Vampire shrimp can experience illness at any time. However, they are most vulnerable when they molt. The shrimp will shed their old shells every two months. After molting, their new shell is thin and soft, putting them at risk of infection.
Most shrimp will hide for a few days after molting to stay away from potential danger.
The good news is that most fungal, bacterial, and parasitic diseases are treatable.
Avoid the use of copper-based medications as they can be fatal to shrimp. Instead, opt for invertebrate-safe medications. Simply quarantine sick shrimp and follow package directions.
Food and Diet
Your vampire shrimp will obtain most of its nutrients by feeding itself, which is a concept that is unfamiliar to many new aquarists.
These shrimp will usually begin to feed once the sun begins to set. They will go to a part of the tank that receives the current.
Once there, they will spread their fans and catch food. Sometimes it seems that the shrimp are shaking! Vampire Shrimp will eat everything from plant detritus, small microorganisms, food scraps, various types of aquarium algae, and anything else they can get their hands on.
That said, you can also provide some supplemental feeding.
Crushed fish flakes or pellets work well. However, we recommend trying powdered food products instead. Powdered spinach, powdered fish fry food, phytoplankton, and zooplankton work well.
Author’s Note: There is a technique that you will need to know if you want to feed them properly. Sprinkle a few pinches of the food upstream. The current will carry the food to the shrimp where they can catch it!
behavior and temperament
Vampire shrimp are naturally docile and shy. They get along well with other species of shrimp and can even live with others of the same species.
That said, most prefer to be alone. These invertebrates are not known to show signs of aggression, but they do not like to be disturbed too much.
In fact, these shrimp can experience severe stress in the presence of highly active tankmates (more on that in the section below).
For most of the day, vampire shrimp are hard to find. They spend their days hiding under rocks or inside plants. When the sun goes down, they become more active.
They will walk along the bottom of the tank looking for food. Periodically, you will see them raise their fins to collect food particles. This can happen anywhere in the tank. But, most shrimp will find a permanent feeding spot to go to.
If you have multiple Vampire Shrimp in the tank, they may even share the space! Other filter shrimp are the only creatures the Vampire Shrimp likes to socialize with.
If you want your vampire shrimp to be part of a larger community, you have several options. This species gets along very well with other shrimp. Despite being larger than the popular dwarf shrimp, they are not aggressive and do not intimidate others.
Their large size also opens up various possibilities for tank mates. They can live with smaller peaceful fish because they are too big to become targets.
Of course, you should avoid pairing these shrimp with any aggressive fish species. Cichlids, goldfish, and other semi-aggressive fish species will only try to eat vampire shrimp!
Here is a small selection of suitable tank mates for the Vampire Shrimp:
- cherry shrimp
- Bamboo Shrimp
- Snowball Shrimp
- Amanos Shrimp
- Ghost Shrimp
- Japanese trapdoor snails
- Mysterious Snails
- ram’s horn snails
- cherry picks
Captive breeding of Vampire Shrimp is possible, but not very practical. It is a very difficult process that is usually not worth it.
Most vampire shrimp sold in stores are wild-caught, as large-scale farming methods are too difficult even for established facilities.
When vampire shrimp reproduce, the young go through several larval stages. Their eggs hatch in saltwater environments before returning to freshwater. This environmental change is nearly impossible to replicate in captivity without multiple tanks and a careful hand.
It is possible, but the process is too complicated for most. We recommend avoiding any attempts and letting these critters live in peace.
Vampire Shrimp are fantastic little creatures that really add a lot to your tank. Their unique appearance and gentle temperament make them a no-brainer for a hobbyist looking for something a little different!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide and feel prepared to care for them as a result. If there is something you think we missed, please contact us and let us know.