Life in the Bowl:

The Ghost Shrimp

What are Ghost shrimp

Ghost Shrimp, also called Glass Shrimp are a small invertebrate usually reaching no more than 1.5" to 2" in length. They are characterized by long slender feeler antenna, translucent body and nimble appendages. The body is segmented, and features ten sets of legs. The front four sets have tiny claws used for grasping and feeding. They can gracefully swim as well as walk across the bottom of their aquarian environment but are completely helpless out of water being able to move only by jumping randomly with a flick of their tail.

As you can see from the picture on the right because of their small size and lack of color they can be a bit hard to photograph.

Many aquariumist use Ghost Shrimp as live food sources for larger species of fish while others have them as tank mates who act as valuable scavengers eating dead plants, some types of algae and uneaten fish food.

Because of the general versatility of this species, its relatively easy care and high reproductive rate, it has become commonly available in most pet shops. Usually ranging in price of 20 to 59 cents.

Here is a group of Ghost shrimp that have just fed. You can actually observe the food as it moves along part of their digestive track.


Why keep them and why in a bowl

There are a number of reasons Ghost Shrimp are perfect for the bowl.

These creatures thrive in the warm, still waters of the freshwater lakes, ponds and canals of the southern US states, especially Florida. Some of these ponds are even stagnant and algae ridden. These are easy conditions to to match or even improve upon in a bowl. Temperature wise Ghost shrimp are versatile surviving in a range of 60 to 85 degrees, the higher temperature of this range being preferred due to their tropical nature.

Ghost Shrimp are fun, energetic creatures that are really entertaining to watch. At times they can be still as a stone but more often then not they can be seen combing the surface and sides of their bowl exploring, picking up and eating bits of food from the sand and gravel or even swimming upside down with their four outstretched claws picking at the surface looking for a morsel that has not yet sunk to the bottom.

Children love to watch Ghost Shrimp and while a bowl of prawns may not replace their tv or video games many kids will find their activities interesting and particularly educational. I say this because it's possible to observe this species in a number of activities common to crustaceans in general that would have been otherwise hard to observe.

  • feeding - Ghost shrimp spend the majority of their time hunting for anything remotely edible. While non aggressive by nature they won't hesitate to steal food from their fellow shrimp either by boldly tearing away a meal all ready half consumed and chasing off the previous owner or by quickly snatching a morsel and scurrying in full retreat with captured food.
  • digestion - Do to their translucent form. It is very easy to see a good part of the digestive process as they consume their food. A quality not exhibited by many of it's thicker shelled cousins such as crabs, lobsters and even most other types of shrimp. It is also a good way to see which shrimp have had success finding food and which ones have gone wanting during feeding time.
  • molting - the process where all crustaceans slide off their shell covering that has become too small and emerge with a new set of armor, and a little bit bigger. The new shell takes a few hours to harden, so you'll need to supply some hiding places for the shrimp to use during this stage. You will rarely see the old empty shells lying around since they are quickly eaten for their calcium content.
  • reproduction - Ghost shrimp will readily breed in the bowl if kept in large enough groups (6 or more) and the container is big enough. From the bowl you will be able to see baby shrimp development right from small, hardly noticeable pink eggs right up to free swimming youngsters.



    Plants are important to keeping happy healthy Ghost shrimp for the following reasons

    1. Aquatic plants help oxygenate the water.
    2. Aquatic and terrestrial root cuttings can be used to help reduce ammonia, a byproduct of most animals.
    3. Increase surface area to allow the growth of ammonia and nitrate eating bacteria.
    4. Provide coverage which can be so important, especially for a shrimp that has molted.
    5. Environmentally that is what they are instinctively used to, Ponds have plants in them and along the edges.
    6. I believe the surface floating plants can actually act as a kind of barrier in case the shrimp gets spooked and jumps. The floating plants can cushion the shrimp, keeping it in the bowl.

    Some of my favorite plants to keep with both Ghost shrimp and fish in general are as follows:

anacharis, also known as the Brazilian Waterweed, is an ideal aquatic plant for the bowl. Light to bright green leaves, with branching stems covered in small grouped leaflets. Anacharis anchors itself in the substrate by sending out tendril like roots, but will also grow just as well free floating. In fact it may grow so well that it will require frequent pruning. Works well as an algae fighter and nutrient sponge usually at a very affordable price.
Read more about working with anacharis

frogbit, Free floating small plant (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) resembling a miniature lily pad. It has nickel sized, kidney shaped, green leaves about 1 inch or less across that grow in circular clusters. New pads rise from the cluster center to produce new growth. A white flower with a yellow center may be tucked among the leaves. The undersides of the leaves are puffed with spongy, air-holding tissue. The roots are beautiful fan like extensions that can grow two inches or more and absorb nutrients directly from the water without having to anchor or even touch the bottom.
Read more about working with frobit

salvinia minima, Small, oval, 3/8" joined eaves covered with tiny hairs that absorb nutrients from the water. Prefers a lot of light and will help control algae. These plants are essentially floating ferns. Since they naturally occur in still waters having high organic content they are perfect for the bowl. Their root-like structures which are actually modified fronds that act like nutrient sponges helping to clean the water like their floating counter part.
Read more about working with salvinia

duckweed, a small floating flowering plant, is highly recommended for fish. It's not only considered extremely healthy for many types of fish in their diet but the roots attract other nutritious microscopic foods for smaller fish and fry. These plants grow floating in still or slow-moving fresh water around the globe, except in the coldest regions. The growth of these high-protein plants can be extremely rapid, so much so that even if a few of these plants remain after a water change they will quickly repopulate the surface. I've read that environmental scientists are using duckweeds to remove unwanted substances from water. All in all a very good addition for a bowl.
Read more about working with duckweed

java moss, While one of my absolute favorites I'm still relatively new at growing this plant let alone taking good pictures. You should be able to find better pictures of this plant on some of the links I've included in this article, Java moss is the common name for Vesicularia dubyana, a hardy plant which makes few demands on the water or light and will grow on just about any surface. It is ideal for decorating stones and plant roots in your bowl. It can be anchored by placing a stone on top, tied into position using fishing line or just left free floating. If its growth becomes too excessive as it usually will given enough time it can be broken up and spread to other bowls and aquariums. Its an excellent hiding place for smaller fish and shrimp.
Read more about working with java moss


  • Ghost Shrimp are excellent scavengers and will eat any kind of fish food. One of their main benefits to a tank is eating left-overs from the bottom of a bowl or aquarium,
  • In the wild on the other hand ghost shrimp will feed on detritus that naturally appears in the sand and mud in shallow lakes and ponds.

water quality

  1. ammonia, should be kept as low as possible. Should not be a problem with a well cycled bowl or tank and avoidance leftovers during feeding. Resort to partial water changes if needed.
  2. ph
  3. hardness
  4. temperature


I personally like to avoid them altogether. Many of the so-called medications for fish are deadly to crustaceans like shrimp. Such products should indicate on the label that they are harmful to invertebrates. Some parasitic medications and those with heavy metals such as copper are the most harmful and should be avoided though antibiotics are usually safe.

bowl mates,

small non aggressive fish

  1. minnows
  2. guppies
  3. bettas (occasionally and under the right circumstances)


  1. trumpet
  2. ramshorns
  3. small apple snail


Every few months the shrimp becomes more vulnerable by molting. That's when they cast off their hard exoskeleton and emerge with new armor, and a little bit bigger. The new shell takes a few hours, up to a day, to harden, so the shrimp will need a hiding place during this routine transformation.

Many shrimp keepers believe that iodine is essential to help freshwater shrimp complete their molt. In tanks with low iodine, molting shrimp turn white and die. Adding iodine (as iodide) can help prevent this. Those in the Shrimp Group have recommend using half the recommended dosage of Kent Marine Iodine with water changes


Sometimes you can see a large female Ghost Shrimp over 1" long with the underside of her body covered with light pink or green eggs. As long as the water is clean they will just about take care of themselves.

Bowls work well into a breeding strategy with Ghost shrimp which are more likely to breed if their numbers are 6 or more. While tanks should be used with such high numbers of of shrimp egg carrying females should then be isolated into a separate tank or bowl if you wish the babies to survive, the young are too small to catch so you must move the female while she is still carrying the baby ghost shrimp or eggs. It is essential to provide plenty of plants or other small hiding places in the aquarium for the young Ghost Shrimp. After the babies have hatched, the parent Ghost Shrimp should be removed. In order to successfully raise the young, they should be fed on baby brine shrimp, in addition to liquefied (fry) food or minute algae.