neocaridina shrimp

Cherry Shrimp Care, Breeding, Diseases & Grading

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If you’re thinking of shrimp for your tank, cherries are the way to go in most cases. They’re one of the easiest species to care for, they come in a ton of colors, and you can get them pretty much anywhere now. Not to mention they’re small, easy to care for, easy to feed, and easy to breed – what more could you want?

Entertaining antics to watch for hours on end, maybe?

Cherry shrimp are naturally a green-brown. It’s only through line breeding that we have developed so many morphs that we know and love today. When you mix color morphs of different variants, you will likely end up with the original green-brown wild-looking shrimp. While this article will reference cherry shrimp (neocaridina var. cherry), the care requirements will apply to all neocaridina davidii – red or otherwise.

Disclosure: If you choose to buy a product I recommend – at best – I’ll make some coffee money at no additional cost to you. I work hard to make sure I’m recommending products you’ll love and that I’m not in your face about my suggestions. If you don’t love it, let me know!

Table of contents

Cherry shrimp snapshot stats

FAQ

Cherry Shrimp Classification

Class: Malacostraca is the largest of the six classes of crustaceans, containing about 40,000 living species. This class arguably contains a greater diversity of body forms than any other class in the animal kingdom.

Order: Caridea, are an infraorder of shrimp within the order Decapoda or decapods (literally meaning “ten-footed”), which includes groups such as crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, and shrimp.

Family: Atyidae is a family of shrimp, present in all tropical and most temperate waters of the world, Atyidae is the only family in the superfamily Atyoidea.

Genus: Neocaridina genus encompasses nearly two dozen freshwater shrimp species – and even more subspecies, though little information is available on what dictates the confines of the genus, it does appear all of them are dwarf shrimp.

Scientific name: Neocaridina davidi

What Does Neocaridina davidi Mean?

In short…

Neo- comes from the Greek prefix νεο-, meaning “new” whereas Caridina is an already established genus of shrimp that includes crystal red shrimp. So Neocaridina would translate to new Caridina, but the origin of Caridina itself seems to be lost.

Similarly, the origin of davidii is also lost but is presumably pseudo-Latin for David – which would likely be someone this species was named after. Who this was, however, remains elusive.

On a related note, Neocaridina davidi were once classified as Neocaridina heteropoda and Neocaridina denticulata sinensis, though it’s rare to find any shrimp for sale under these bygone names.

Distribution & Natural Habitat

Cherry shrimp natural habitat

Cherry shrimp originate from Taiwan where they live in densely planted streams and ponds with a rocky or sandy substrate, surrounded by forests. In the wild, the water is slow-moving, and there is often little tannins or staining in the water. If you want to replicate these conditions in your tank, Brightwell Aquatics has a line of aquarium additives that should get the job done.

Aquarium Care

Difficulty: Easy
Size: 1.6″ (4 cm)
Lifespan: 2 years
Tank Size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
Diet: Omnivore – opportunistic 
Temperature: 65– 80F (18 – 26C)

pH: 6.2 – 8.0
Hardness:
3 – 8 dKH
Temperament: Peaceful
Breeding: Easy
Swimming: On surfaces
Availability: Very common

The Tank Specs

I suggest a minimum tank of 5 gallons, though a 10-gallon is a better choice. Anything less and you run the risk of having an overpopulated tank, as six shrimp can quickly become a 100. I suggest twenty longs as the maximum tank size, anything over that and your population will slowly decline as they won’t be able to find mates.

That is unless you have the cash to spend on 100+ shrimp for a starter colony – which I’m guessing you don’t. Even if you did, it would probably be easier to breed your way up to a population large enough to move to a larger tank. And, again, with shrimp having almost a zero bioload, it’s easy to run into cycling issues with larger tanks. 

You’ll also likely want a heater if you want your shrimp to breed. If you’re not super into the idea of breeding shrimp (which is super easy, low maintenance, and a delight, by the way!) you probably won’t need to worry about temperature much so long as your house is a comfortable temp.

Stocking

The dwarfs prefer to be kept in groups of six or more, in smaller numbers they become shy and struggle to find mates. Most, however, people seem to be concerned with the maximum number of shrimp they can keep. The answer isn’t definitive, more like whatever you and your filtration can handle (which is usually more than you think.)

Since these guys don’t eat their young, your colony could grow exponentially – and fast – under the right conditions. Which, like most things shrimp-related, seems to be hit or miss with most people.

Decor

Cherry shrimp thrive in densely planted aquariums that have hiding spots, driftwood, and plant debris (like leaf litter) which they can graze on. They’ll appreciate any structures they can graze, cling to, or hide in when they’re molting as well. My favorite place for natural finds like this is Tannin Aquatics. It’s literally always a treat to use anything I order from them.

They have a curated section just for shrimp that I absolutely adore. It’s got some cool finds like jackfruit and magnolia leaves. It’s also got dregea pods that I love!

Dregea pod

I’ve found that HTH pool filter sand works well as their substrate – and it’s insanely cheap from your local hardware store. If you try to order it online you’ll end up paying insane markup for shipping, I only linked it so you can see what it looks like and if it’s in a store near you. There are plenty of people who keep their shrimp without substrate or with special shrimp substrates, but I’ve never found a need. If your water leans outside of their ideal conditions or you want to add some plants, special substrates make more sense.

If that sounds like you, I did a ton of research on the top substrates people use for shrimp and included the best suggestions below. Again, I’ve never used them myself – I’ve always used the HTH pool filter sand.

Best Plants For Cherry Shrimp

There aren’t any terrible choices for plants, but there are a few I would recommend above others for a shrimp tank. When I think of plant options to add to a tank, I want to see natural behaviors and a relationship that benefits both the plant and the animal. For shrimp that means that ability to graze off, cling to, and clean the plants. With that in mind, here are my favorite recommendations:

Dwarf Hairgrass

dwarf hairgrass care carpeting

Dwarf hairgrass is one of the easiest carpeting plants to grow, but this doesn’t make it an easy plant by most standards. It’s worth the time, money, and effort to create a lush green lawn-like carpet, but if that already sounds like too much for you, you might want to look at other options.

Difficulty: Moderate
Growth: Depends
Temperature: 50 – 83F (10 – 20C)

pH: 6.5 – 7.5
Hardness: 2 – 10 dKH
Placement: Planted

Java Moss

Java moss

Java moss is an almost bulletproof plant that requires almost no care. It doesn’t grow nearly as slowly as it’s java fern cousin, and can create lush moss beds that blow and billow in the current. They’re a great option for grazers, fry, or those of you with the blackest of thumbs.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 59 – 86F (15 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness: 3 – 12 dKH
Placement: Floating or attached

Guppy Grass

guppy grass

Guppy grass is a great floating plant that adds depth, structure, and cover to any tank. It’s a super easy plant to grow and takes up tons of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, but – beware – it grows fast and can easily overrun your tank. Overall, it’s an amazing plant to have if water quality is your top concern.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Rapid
Temperature: 50 – 86F (10 – 30C)

pH: 6.0 – 7.0
Hardness: 2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Floating, planted, weighted

Lighting & Filtration

Since shrimp come from calmer waters, they don’t deal with heavy water flow. It’s best to keep water movement minimal and ensure that you have a filter that won’t suck up shrimp. You can either put a sponge intake over a filter – although you may still find shrimp in your filter – or use a sponge filter. It’s simplest, and probably safest, to use a sponge filter. 

Plus they seem to love grazing off them.

That’s not to say you don’t have to worry about a shrimp getting stuck in the airlift tube of your sponge filter. No, seriously. I’ve had it happen. You can prevent this by slipping a mesh stocking over the airlift tube, but it doesn’t look pretty. I’ve included my favorite picks for intake sponges, sponge filters, and air pumps below as well.

Water Care

When doing water changes, it’s essential to add de-chlorinator, mix it well, and let it sit before adding new water into the tank. If you set up your tank on and auto water change system, you need to consider dechlorination. Fresh water can go through several filters, or it can sit in a holding tank where conditioners are added before the water is changed.

Co2, copper, and other heavy metals pose lethal dangers to shrimp, so if you think you can skip the above step, think again. I’ve almost killed off colonies with this slip up. Another thing to keep in mind is when Co2 dissolves into the water, it can impact pH and the dissolved oxygen levels. Similarly, many aquarium fertilizers can mess with pH, dissolved oxygen (ionic binding,) as well as add copper to the tank.

Since these are dwarf shrimp, provided you set up and cycle your tank properly, you can probably get away with a monthly water change so long as your tank is lightly stocked. Ideally, though, you want to be changing 10% of your water weekly.

Feeding

Cherries are scavengers that will scarf down just about anything if the opportunity presents itself. In aquariums, their diet includes plant matter, algae, debris, infusoria, dead or dying animals, and plenty of other unsavory morsels. Shrimp are not particularly picky with what they eat, mostly because they eat constantly.

Still, let’s give them a healthy and varied diet!

When feeding them vegetables, be sure to peel and blanch them before adding them to your tank. Not only does this allow it to sink faster, but it also softens up the “flesh” of the veg. Soft veggies are easier for the shrimp to pick apart. You can also feed them spinach and other leafy greens so long as you’ve boiled them for a few minutes.

It’s important to remember that they need calcium and copper in their diet. Although copper is deadly to shrimp, it’s a vital nutrient for all life – but they need it in smaller amounts. If you’re questioning the safety of the level of copper in the food that you currently feed, it’s safer to switch to a shrimp-specific food. That way, you’ll know it has the correct levels of copper and calcium versus guessing. Prepared diets also tend to be more convenient.

Some of my favorite shrimp foods to recommend are Shrimp King Complete (though most of their products I would recommend), Shirakura Shrimp Food, or Hikari Shrimp Cuisine. Each one has it’s pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide what’s a deal-breaker and what your shrimp like.

Cherry Shrimp Diseases

While not necessarily disease-related, cherry shrimp can die for several reasons. Cherry shrimp don’t live long, so they die of old age at a (relatively) young age. They can also die due to:

  • Copper poisoning
  • They failed to molt due to a lack of calcium or iodine in their diet
  • Co2 levels are too high, and the dissolved oxygen levels are too low
  • Poor water quality

These diseases are the most common for cherry shrimp, but they’re still pretty rare.

Vorticella

vorticella

Is a protozoan – one of 16 known species – although it looks like a fungus. It usually grows on this shell of the shrimp nearer the tip of the “nose.” They prey on bacteria and use their cilia to create a current of water to direct food towards their mouth. Typically it reproduces by binary fission where new organism split off from the parent and swim until it can find something to attach to. If left untreated, it has been known to cause death.

Bacterial infection

bacterial infection shrimp

Bacterial infections are difficult to diagnose in shrimp. In some transparent shrimp species, you can observe the internal infection. The inner body appears dark when healthy and pink in infected shrimp, as though it’s inflamed. In non-transparent shrimp, it’s almost impossible to diagnose. Treatment is not yet possible.

Leeches

shrimp leeches

Leeches, of course, are not a disease – but they are a parasite. They have been known to affect shrimp with a relative frequency. They’re not the typical leechers that you’d find and rivers, streams, or ponds that would often become stuck to you, they’re little white leeches.

Cherry Shrimp Tankmates

Cherry shrimp are dwarfs, they’re peaceful, and they’re tasty – which make an ideal snack for most roommates. Infamous shrimp eaters include bettas, silvertip tetras, and all dwarf cichlids.

It’s also best to avoid housing them with anything that lives predominantly at the bottom of the aquarium as one will almost always disturb the other. Bottom-dwelling choices (to avoid) would include corydoras, African dwarf frogs, and kuhli loaches. Similarly, it’s best to avoid highly predatory tank mates – even if they’re small! A good example of a bad roommate would be pea puffers, who will no doubt harass your shrimp to death and slowly pick them to pieces.

Good tankmates would be fish that don’t want to eat shrimp. Fish like algae eaters, fish that are too small to fit them in their mouth, and fish that aren’t highly predatory are good. In short, look for small fish with little mouths and – usually – fish that are easily distracted or slow work well.

Pencilfish (Nannostomus sp.)

beckfords pencilfish

Pencilfish is a genus containing 19 currently recognized species. Some popular options are diptails, Beckford’s, and coral. Although it’s a large genus, the care is similar for all of them and you should aim for a shoal of at least six. 

Research into a specific species and their requirements is strongly recommended. 

pH: 5.0 – 7.0
dKH: 4 – 12
Temp: 74 – 82F (23 – 27C)

Size: 2″ (5 cm) species dependent
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Mid to top

Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)

Ember Tetra

Ember tetras are bright, fun, tiny, shoaling fish that occur in South American black waters. They’re hardy, peaceful fish that are often described as active, bold, and playful. They also enjoy a planted tank, but be mindful that they do like to swim in open space, so be sure to include that in your layout. They enjoy their numbers a little higher than most shoaling species, 8 is recommended.

pH: 5.5 – 7
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 68 – 82 F (20 – 27 C)

Size: 3/4″ (2 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Top to midwater shoaling

Sparkling gourami (Trichopsis pumila)

Sparkling gourami

Little known fact about sparkling gouramis; they’re quite social and gregarious creatures! Although they don’t school or shoal, they do enjoy social interactions with their own kind – in fact, most gourami do! – and we suggest a four minimum to make sure they’re comfortable.

pH: 6 – 8
dKH: 5 – 18
Temp: 72 – 81 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 1.5″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be aggressive when spawning
Swimming: All water

Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

Guppy Care

Guppies, despite commonly-held opinion, can be quite fragile when settling. They’re prone to spinal issues and often will miscarry even under ideal circumstances. Many newcomers often report their guppies die within the first week they bring them home. With that said, they’re beautiful, colorful, fun and rewarding fish once they get settled in your tank!

pH: 7.0 – 8.5
dKH: 8 – 30
Temp: 76 – 82F (24 – 27C)

Size: 2.5″ (6 cm)
Temperament: Most are nippy
Swimming: Everywhere they can

Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus sp.)

bristlenose pleco

Most plecos aren’t suited for the average aquarium, some growing up to two feet long – not the bristlenose pleco. They’ll happily munch on algae, green beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, sinking algae wafers, and of course leftovers and fish poo – although leftovers and poo make for a literally shitty diet.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 6 – 10
Temp: 60 – 80 F (15 – 27 C)

Size: 4 – 5″ (10 – 12 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be territorial
Swimming: Everywhere that has structure

Otocinculus (Otocinclus sp.)

Otocinclus

Otocinclus, like most peaceful fish, enjoy company of their own kind – four or more is a good start. They enjoy cleaning algae and debris off glass, decor, and plants – but will always clean plants first if they have the choice. It’s important to add these guys to a well-established tank not only because it needs to have enough food for them to munch, but also because they’re highly sensitive fish. You’ll also need to feed them sinking wafers in addition to what they can find in your tank.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 6 – 15
Temp: 72 – 82F (22 – 28C)

Size: 1 – 2″ (3 – 5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, social fish, usually shy
Swimming: On surfaces

Nerite Snails (Neritina natalensis)

nerite snail

The most common complaint about snails is that they can reproduce like crazy, this is especially true for tanks with tons of leftovers! Nerite snails, however, can’t reproduce in freshwater so this isn’t a concern for the average aquarium. A simple remedy to keeping shrimp in soft water or water with little calcium is to add Tums to the tank for them to munch on to get their calcium fill.

pH: 7.0 – 8.9
dKH: 6 – 12
Temp: 70 – 80 F (21 – 27 C)

Size: 1″ (2 cm) although somewhat species dependent
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Everywhere there’s food

Crystal Red Shrimp (Caridina cantonensis)

crystal red shrimp

Crystal red shrimp, not unlike cherry shrimp, come in more colors than just red. They’re a similar size to cherry shrimp and make a great alternative if you’re looking for a little bit more of a challenge. They’re incredibly popular – although more expensive.

pH: 5.8 – 7.4
dKH: 0 – 4
Temp: 62 – 76F (16 – 24C)

Size: 1.25″ (3 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Surfaces

Breeding Cherry Shrimp

Breeding cherry shrimp requires no additional effort on your part so long as parameters are in check. The biggest problem with breeding cherry shrimp is that there are no males present. Female shrimp are larger and more colorful than male shrimp, so they tend to be purchased more frequently than male shrimp.

Female (left) v. male (right) cherry shrimp

Although cherry shrimp will breed at any temperature within their range, they will be most prolific around 81 to 82゚F 27゚C. Be sure to include plenty of live plants in your tank’s layout. Plants allow shrimplets to graze on infusoria in other small foody bits. Additional plant cover also gives adults peace of mind and the feeling of safety that they need to breed.

Higher levels of calcium and minerals are also beneficial for breeding as they’re necessary for the maturation of eggs. Adding calcium can be as simple as adding crushed coral, crushed limestone, or adding Tums for the shrimp to eat.

You may notice that some points it looks as though the female is carrying eggs inside her back (called “saddled.” Seeing a saddle is a signal that she will be ready – or is ready – to breed. The females often hide and release pheromones into the water to notify the male she is ready and where to find her. These pheromones cause the males to search out the female and, once the male finds the female, he will deposit his sperm. Once collected, the female passes her eggs through the sperm on the way to the underside of her tail.

Saddled Cherry Shrimp

At this point, you will see the female carrying eggs underneath her tail, also called “berried.” You will see her fanning the eggs with her tail and her legs during this time to ensure the eggs receive adequate water movement and oxygen to prevent fungus. She’ll carry them until they hatch, about 30 days or so, at which point they will receive no care from the mother.

Berried Cherry Shrimp

Baby shrimp don’t need special care, so long as you’ve set your tank up correctly. They will eat microscopic organisms such as infusoria, small particulate matter, and pick off food that you feed to the adults. A word of warning, however, is that you might not even know they’re there, they’re so small!

Baby cherry shrimp (white dot to right)

In about four to six months, they should be fully grown and start breeding.

Neocaridina Colors

There are probably too many variants for me to list out in one article, but I will list out a few the most common that you’ll come across. Often the most confusing thing to newcomers are the different grades of shrimp, which can also go by different names. For example, red cherry sakura shrimp are just a higher grade version of the red cherry shrimp. Grading of shrimp can often be confusing, but I’ll go into that more in a second.

Cherry shrimp

Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp are probably the most common neocaridina shrimp that you’ll see. They are usually the cheapest as well – around $3 – $4 per, even painted fire red cherry shrimp don’t usually go for more than $6. They have the coloration of, what I can only describe as, a cherry tomato.

bloody mary shrimp

Bloody Mary

Be careful not to confuse Bloody Marys with cherries – or any grade of cherry shrimp. This variant has a deep red color – almost burgundy – versus the bright red color of the cherry shrimp. They’re also slightly transparent whereas cherry shrimp are more opaque. They also have a bright white eyespot in most cases that cherry shrimp don’t have.

blue velvet shrimp

Blue Velvet

Blue velvet shrimp are a light, almost sky blue, (they’re also called sky blue shrimp,) and are often translucent. They’re not to be confused with blue dream shrimp which are much darker and less opaque. They’re not as common, or usually as popular, due to their relatively mundane coloration.

blue dream shrimp

Blue Dream

Blue dream shrimp are a dark, vivid blue. Though often have black or very dark patches across the top of their body and head. The genetics behind these guys can be pretty confusing. The coloration and intensity depend heavily on which line your dreams came out of – usually chocolate, but they can come from a handful of other lines as well.

Orange or Pumpkin Spice

Orange/Pumpkin spice shrimp are exactly what they sound like. They’re a bright orange that is semi-opaque. They’re not the easiest shrimp to source, but not incredibly difficult, either.

yellow shrimp

Yellow

They can be somewhat opaque depending on the gradation of the shrimp. There can be a variety of tones and hues within a single grade of yellow shrimp – from bright yellow to a pastel – this makes no difference in the grade of the shrimp. The grade is almost entirely dependent on opacity.

green jade shrimp

Green Jade

Green Jade shrimp are a medium army greenish to a neon green depending on the line they come from. They’re not as easy to come by as many other variants such as black, red, or yellow. They are easy enough to find if you want to go online or orders from a specialty retailer.

purple shrimp

Purple

Purple neocaridina shrimp are incredibly challenging to find and, if you do find them, expect to pay a little more than a few pennies for them. Again, if you can source them at all. Their purple coloration often leans more heavily towards blue dreams and chocolates than the bright purple you’d hope for.

Black rose shrimp

Black Rose

Black roses are an entirely black shrimp. If you look at them under the right light, they may range from my dark brownish blue coloration to jet black depending on their grading. One of my favorite variants! Although, issue being, you may never see them in your tank unless you have a light-colored tank which will wash them out.

snowball shrimp

Snowball

Snowball shrimp are an off-white opaque and are sometimes confused with ghost shrimp – which are an entirely different species. They have a milky white appearance and are somewhat see-through, more so depending on grading.

rili shrimp

Rili

Rili shrimp come, even more confusingly, in a variety of colors. Black, also known as carbon rili; red, also known as red rili; orange, also known as orange rili; and several other variants are commonly available. The rili variant has a patch in the shrimp that breaks up the color line. Adding to the confusion, regardless of the color of the rili, they’re all known as var. rili.

Grading Cherry Shrimp

Shrimp grading can be confusing, especially when you get into the color variants. The basic concept is the same for most colors – although some of the “rules” and names will differ. Since it’s such an extensive topic, I’m only going to cover cherry shrimp grading.

Each grade takes into account two main factors:

  1. Color intensity: redder is better
  2. Opacity: less opaque is better. This is particularly true for the legs of the shrimp. Higher grade cherries should have few opaque spots on the body.

That’s it. For some variants, like yellows, color intensity isn’t a consideration at all. It’s also important to remember that males will rarely score as high as their female counterparts since they, again in general, have less intense coloration.

Low Grade

The lowest grade specimens are mostly translucent but have light pinkish-red spots.

Low Sakura Grade

Sakura grade cherry shrimp have more red than and the red should also be darker. They have less opacity, though their color is still quite blotchy. Their legs are still almost entirely translucent.

AA grade

AA Grade

High sakura grade (or AA) are more opaque than low Sakura grade specimens, and the color is more intense. The legs show some blotchy coloration the lower grades don’t have.

Fire Red Grade

Fire red grade are almost entirely opaque and have evenly colored legs with no blotches.

Painted Fire Red Grade

Painted Fire Red Grade

Eggs and saddle are invisible unless under a strong backlight. The color is darker than that of all the lower grades, and absolutely no translucent spots are visible.

Further Reading & Sources

The Shrimp Farm – Grading Red Cherry Shrimp

TFH Magazine – Red Cherry Shrimp