If you go to the pet store, you may notice the armies of tiny red cherry shrimp foraging along the bottom of many fish tanks and aquariums. Cherry shrimp are becoming increasingly more popular among fish enthusiasts because of their eye-catching bright red “cherry” color, as well as how easy they are to care for as pets.
Cherry shrimp are a color morph of neocardidina davidi, a type of dwarf freshwater shrimp that live in freshwater ponds in Taiwan. In the wild, cherry shrimp aren’t “cherry red”—this vibrant red color is the result of selective breeding (although incorporating carotenoid to their diet may enhance their color, according to a study in Thailand). In fact, these shrimp can be found in a wide variety of different colors, including green, brown, red, yellow, orange, blue, violet, black, etc. However, the vivid “cherry” red is the most common in aquariums and pet stores today.
Let’s take a look at what cherry shrimp eat, and how these tiny, eye-catching creatures are a great addition to any home fish tank or aquarium.
What Do Cherry Shrimp Eat?
Cherry shrimp eat lots and lots of algae—even hair algae! (Many other aquatic animals would never eat hair algae) Algae is the foundation of a cherry shrimp’s diet. Cherry shrimp eat most types of algae, as well as plankton, uneaten fish food, and plant debris. They are omnivores and scavengers, which means they are happy to eat just about anything they can find.
Here is a list of foods that cherry shrimp commonly eat:
- All kinds of algae (however, they may be uninterested in blue-green algae, green spot algae, and staghorn algae)
- Uneaten fish food
- Bacterial film and biofilm
- Plant debris and dead plant matter
- Blanched vegetables
- Plankton and phytoplankton
- Dead brine shrimp
- Their own exoskeletons
Why Are Cherry Shrimp Popular Pets?
Cherry shrimp are increasingly popular as pets due to their small size and vibrant color. Cherry shrimp are quite small, only 1.5 inches long, even when they are fully grown. They are peaceful and non-aggressive, so you can have many living together within a single aquarium. Because they are small, docile, and scavenge for their food, they will not bother their other tank mates. They are hardy animals that generally do not need specific water temperatures, which makes them ideal for beginners and experts alike. Although they are small, due to their cherry red color, they are easy to spot in a fish tank and are quite active as they continually graze for food throughout the day, making them a fun pet to watch.
How Much Do Cherry Shrimps Eat?
Many pet owners may worry about their cherry shrimps getting enough to eat. Yet, because of their small size and scavenging behaviors, their diet is quite easy to maintain. Cherry shrimp act as the “cleanup crew” of any aquarium, picking up uneaten fish food and plant debris. And since algae makes up so much of their diet, they do an especially great job of cleaning up any extra algae growth along the walls and floors of fish tanks. In fact, some pet owners will even leave a light on for an extra hour or two to encourage algae growth in the tank, making an excellent harvest for these tiny aquatic grazers.
What Do Pet Cherry Shrimp Eat?
In addition to the biofilm, algae, uneaten fish food, and plant debris that cherry shrimp will gather on their own, there are a few other foods that pet owners can add to supplement their cherry shrimp’s diet:
- Tiny pieces of blanched vegetables (favorites include spinach, carrots, lettuce, zucchini, and cucumber)
- Plankton cubes or plankton blocks
- Dead brine shrimp
Pet owners can feed cherry shrimp every day to every three days, depending on how much the cherry shrimp are eating on their own. It is important to remove any excess food that the cherry shrimp do not eat within a few hours of feeding so that the water can remain clear and clean.
What Can’t Cherry Shrimp Eat
While cherry shrimp are scavengers and will eat just about anything, they do not eat fish poop or other cherry shrimp (although they are happy to eat shed exoskeletons, and even other dead shrimp). The one thing they are extremely sensitive to, however, is copper, which can be very bad for cherry shrimp. It is important for pet owners to choose high-quality pellets that do not contain a lot of copper, and to always check the labels of other fish food and medications (as these often contain copper as well).
What Eats Cherry Shrimp?
Since cherry shrimp are scavengers, eating discarded fish food, algae, and plant decay, they don’t have to worry much about competing with other animals for food. However, because they are near the bottom of the food chain, cherry shrimp do have the potential to become someone else’s meal. When kept as pets it is important to give cherry shrimp lots of hiding places, using densely packed plants, java moss and java fern, and rocky substrate. Pet owners should also be aware of the other kinds of animals they decide to keep in a tank alongside cherry shrimp.
Here are a few of the more aggressive fish that will eat cherry shrimp:
It is best to keep cherry shrimp in a tank with less aggressive fish, such as:
- Dwarf Corydoras
- Otocinclus catfish
What Do Baby Cherry Shrimp Eat?
Baby cherry shrimp—or cherry shrimp “fry”—are too small to eat many of the usual foods that adult cherry shrimp enjoy. For the first 60 days of life, cherry shrimp babies eat biofilm and algae as their primary sources of food. When kept as pets, baby cherry shrimp can also eat commercial foods such as powdered spirulina algae. They also like to eat the leaves of anacharis plants (nibbling on the leaves can provide baby cherry shrimp with extra nutrients). Due to their small size, baby cherry shrimp are best kept in their own tank, away from larger fish who may be interested in making these tiny fry their next meal.
What Can Cherry Shrimp Eat to Enhance Their Colors?
The vibrant red color of cherry shrimp is a result of breeding rather than diet. However, just like many other animals, a well-balanced diet and comfortable environment produces healthier cherry shrimp, and healthier cherry shrimp will display brighter colors. Cherry shrimp feel safer in groups of ten or more, with densely packed plants, moss, and lots of hiding places. Helping cherry shrimp to feel safe and comfortable in their habitat will also help them to display brighter colors.
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