Why Are My Red Cherry Shrimp Dying? (16 reasons with solutions)

Red Cherry Shrimp are incredibly popular at the moment, and it is easy to see why. They bring life and character to the aquarium in a way fish don’t seem to. Such is their popularity at the moment that many people are now even keeping dedicated Red Cherry Shrimp tanks.

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

Red Cherry Shrimp are very hardy, however, when they seem to be dying for no apparent reason it can be very frustrating. In this article, I look at the most common reasons Red Cherry Shrimp die, and what you can do to prevent them from dying.

The most common reasons Red Cherry Shrimp are dying include poor water quality, elevated levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, or the presence of a contaminant such as chlorine in the water. Red Cherry Shrimp may also be dying because they have been added to a tank that isn’t mature enough and therefore doesn’t have the naturally occurring algae and biofilm they like to eat.

Why Are My Red Cherry Shrimp Dying?

It can be incredibly frustrating to find your Red Cherry Shrimp are all dying for no apparent reason. Working out the cause of the deaths can be even more frustrating.

Below I have listed 16 of the main reasons Red Cherry Shrimp may be dying, then I consider what you can do to mitigate each of these problems.

  • Shrimp were not acclimatized correctly
  • Overfeeding
  • Tank is not mature enough
  • Shrimp were poor quality to start with
  • Shrimp failed to molt correctly
  • Shrimp are being eaten
  • Pests or disease
  • Fish medicines
  • Copper levels in the water are too high
  • Contaminant in the water
  • Water temperature is incorrect or fluctuates
  • Water parameters are incorrect
  • Stress
  • Ammonia, nitrites or nitrates are too high
  • Adding new plants
  • Shrimp are just too old


1. Shrimp Were Not Acclimatized Correctly

When we purchase Red Cherry Shrimp (and really whenever we purchase new fish too), the process of adding them to our aquariums can be incredibly stressful for the Red Cherry Shrimp. They may have lived in one aquarium all their lives, then they are scooped up, put in a bag, transported to our homes, and tipped into a new tank that probably has completely different water from their original tank.

The process of acclimatization helps reduce this stress by slowly mixing the new tank water with the existing tank water which is in the bag or bucket the shrimp were transported in.

If your Red Cherry Shrimp have died shortly after being added to your new tank, failing to acclimatize them correctly may have been the cause of their death.

Solution: How to acclimatize Red Cherry Shrimp correctly?

Acclimatizing Red Cherry Shrimp involves slowly adding your tank water to whatever bag or bucket the shrimp have been transported in. This process allows the shrimp to slowly become accustomed to your water rather than just being plonked straight into it.

Step 1

Place the container of shrimp on a stable surface below the level of your aquarium. If the shrimp are in a bag, consider moving them to a bucket.

Step 2

Place a small length of airline tubing or a similar narrow pipe in your aquarium and secure it so it can’t fall out.

Step 3

Tie a loose knot at the other end of the airline tubing. The knot should be loose enough to allow water to slowly drip through it.

Step 4

Gently suck on the knotted end of the pipe until water begins to siphon down tup tubing.

Step 5

Allow water from the main aquarium to slowly drip into the bucket containing the Red Cherry Shrimp.

Step 6

Over the next hour or two, allow water to continue to drip into the bucket, mixing the Red Cherry Shrimps’ existing water with that of their new tank.

Important: Do not walk away and forget you have water dripping from your aquarium into a bucket. If it fills to the top of the bucket, water will continue to siphon from your aquarium, potentially flooding your home.



2. Overfeeding

Red Cherry Shrimp are tiny, and so are their stomachs. Although Red Cherry Shrimp spend all day eating, they don’t consume very much food at all. For me, feeding my Red Cherry Shrimp is one of the most enjoyable parts of the hobby.

However, it can be very easy to overfeed your Red Cherry Shrimp.

Overfeeding a tank containing Red Cherry Shrimp can lead to the water being polluted as the food which is leftover quickly begins to rot in the aquarium water. Overfeeding is a major cause of deaths of Red Cherry Shrimps in new keepers aquariums.

I only feed my own Red Cherry Shrimp colonies 2 or 3 times a week, and then only as much as I know they will consume within a few hours.

Solution:

Not overfeeding Red Cherry Shrimp is really important. It can be tricky to resist the urge to feed them.

In reality, Red Cherry Shrimp do not require much food, and if they are being kept in a mature tank with algae and a naturally occurring biofilm, they will find plenty to eat without your help. In fact, if they are being kept in a tank with fish, the chances are you won’t need to feed your Red Cherry Shrimp at all as they will happily consume the food that passes by the fish.

If you keep your Red Cherry Shrimp in their own, dedicated tank, consider only feeding 2 or 3 times a week, and preferably feed a food that remains stable in the water for longer. I like to use gel food like Repashy as it holds together in the water for many hours.

It is very unlikely your Red Cherry Shrimp are dying from UNDERFEEDING, but overfeeding is a real shrimp killer!



3.Tank is not Mature Enough

Although above I talk about feeding and overfeeding Red Cherry Shrimp, the reality is that the vast majority of their diet is made up of both algae and the naturally occurring biofilm which builds up on every surface inside the aquarium.

When we place Red Cherry Shrimp into a brand new aquarium, the chances are there will be no algae and no biofilm. Without these two naturally occurring food sources, your Red Cherry Shrimp may not survive long, no matter how much you feed them.

Whilst it is not easy to say how long a tank should be set up before it is considered mature, essentially, once algae start to naturally form inside the aquarium, you can consider it to have started maturing.

Solution:

In reality, there is little you can do if your Red Cherry Shrimp are dying due to their tank being immature. Making sure you leave the new tank as long as possible before adding the Red Cherry Shrimp will help.

If you have another, more mature tank, you can move the remaining Red Cherry Shrimp in to, there is a greater chance they will survive. Otherwise, it may be a case of riding it out whilst the tank matures and hoping no more shrimp die. If none of your shrimp make it, don’t buy more until you are sure your tank has had a chance to mature.



4. Shrimp Were Poor Quality to Begin With

One of the best parts of Red Cherry Shrimp keeping is the fact they are so easy to breed. This very fact can also be the downfall of the new shrimp keeper if they end up buying poor quality Red Cherry Shrimp from an unreliable supplier.

It can be very difficult to tell just from looking at them if Red Cherry Shrimp come from a good source or are genetically weak.

Solution:

Only buy your Red Cherry Shrimp from a reputable supplier. If your local fish store has them in stock, visit the store two or three times and try to monitor their shrimp. If they are turning them over really quickly, is it because they are selling so quickly, or are the shrimp dying in their care.

Alternatively, buy from a dedicated shrimp breeder. I have had good luck using The Shrimp Farm which is based in Bloomington, Illinois. They have been in business for many years and they ship shrimp all over the country.

5. Shrimp Failed to Molt Correctly

Red Cherry Shrimp bodies have a hard exoskeleton. When they grow, they have to shed this exoskeleton by physically dragging themselves out of it, much like a spider does. This process is called molting.

When it is time to molt, the old exoskeleton splits just behind the shrimp’s head. This split enables the shrimp to essentially climb out of its old skin, with its new skin intact underneath. Occasionally, Red Cherry Shrimp can become stuck and fail to completely remove themselves from the old exoskeleton.

The main early sign a poor molt might happen is the presence of a white band that forms where the shrimp’s head meets its body. This is sometimes referred to as the white ring of death due to the

This failure to molt properly is generally caused by improper diet or water parameters.


https://youtu.be/iM3EcGbZ_8g

Solution:

There are essentially two reasons for a poor molt, and unless you know which, you may end up tackling both simultaneously.

To start with, ensure your Red Cherry Shrimp are receiving the correct balance of vitamins and nutrients. Red Cherry Shrimp may be small, but their bodies are complex, and they require a diet that is balanced in essential vitamins and minerals.

I have found there are many commercially available foods that have been developed especially with shrimp in mind. Shrimp Cuisine by Hikari has always proved a winner in my own shrimp tanks.

If you don’t believe the Red Cherry Shrimps’ poor molt was due to a lack of a balanced diet, then look at your water parameters. The ideal water parameters for Red Cherry Shrimp are;

  • Temperature: 65°F – 80°F (18°C – 26.5°C)
  • pH: 6.5 – 8.0
  • GH: 4-12
  • KH: 1-8
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0ppm
  • Nitrate: 20ppm or lower
  • TDS: 125 – 250

If you are unsure of the water parameters in your shrimp aquarium, order yourself a test kit from Amazon. I have always found the API Master Test Kit to be reasonably priced and easy to use. See more about the kit HERE.

6. Shrimp are Being Eaten

If you believe you are losing Red Cherry Shrimp, but you don’t ever see their bodies, it is possible they are being eaten.

It turns out, just about every fish living in our aquariums find Red Cherry Shrimp irresistible. Apparently, they are very tasty. Typically, when Red Cherry Shrimp are kept in a community setup with other fish, the smallest shrimp will get eaten quite quickly, whereas the larger shrimp don’t get eaten so readily.

Solution:

It is possible to keep Red Cherry Shrimp with fish. I keep them in almost every aquarium in my fish room. The secret is setting the tank up in the right way so the Red Cherry Shrimp can cohabitate.

It is important to provide plenty of cover for the Red Cherry Shrimp. Both live and fake aquarium plants provide cover for the shrimp, as does a good pile of rocks or a couple of pieces of aquarium-safe wood. I currently keep a colony of Red Cherry Shrimp with my large Fantail Goldfish.

The goldfish are more than capable of eating even the largest shrimp, but because I have set the tank up with masses of live plants as well as some rocks, the Red Cherry Shrimp and Fantail goldfish live happily in the same tank.

7. Pests and Diseases

Like any animal, Red Cherry Shrimp do occasionally succumb to either pests or disease. Some pests and diseases can be treated for, others can not.

If you believe your Red Cherry Shrimp are dying either because of a pest or disease, identification of the problem is essential so appropriate action can be taken.

The most common pests and diseases that affect Red Cherry Shrimp include;

  • Vorticella
  • Bacterial Infections
  • Fungal Infections
  • Scutariella Japonica
  • Dragonfly Nymphs


8. Fish Medicines

There are many different medications available to us to help keep our fish healthy and cure any pests or diseases they may be suffering from. However, many of these medications are lethal to freshwater shrimp and other aquatic invertebrates.

If your Red Cherry Shrimp are dying and you have recently been treating your fish with a non-shrimp-safe medication, this may be the reason your shrimp are dying.

Some of the ingredients that are unsafe to use in an aquarium with shrimp include, but are not limited to;

  • Copper
  • Copper Sulfate
  • Formalin
  • Formaldehyde
  • Furazolidone
  • Furane
  • Lead
  • Nitrofurazone
  • Trichlorfon

Solution:

If you believe your shrimp may be dying due to the presence of an inappropriate medicine in the water, start by carrying out an immediate, large water change. Changing at least 50% of the water will reduce the concentration of medication in the water by half.

Further water changes may be required over the coming days to completely rid the aquarium of the toxic medication.

For future treatments, only use medications that are expressly marked as ‘safe for use with shrimp’. Almost every good-quality medication will have a warning on the box or bottle if the medication is toxic to shrimp and/or snails. Always read and take notice of any safety warnings.



9. Copper levels in the water are too high

Paradoxically, copper is both vital to the proper development and health of shrimp, but in larger concentrations is toxic to them. Many fish and shrimp foods contain copper. It is an essential element that, when fed as part of a balanced diet, is crucial to the shrimp’s growth and development.

Copper levels in your tap or well water may be too high, which can lead to your Red Cherry Shrimp dying.

It is impossible to tell how much copper is in your water just by looking at it. The only reliable method for testing copper levels is to purchase a copper test kit, like this one from API (Amazon.com).

Solution:

The natural solution to any contaminant in the water is to change large portions of the water. However, if the contaminant is in the tap water itself, you will need to use a different tactic.

CupriSorb, which is made by Seachem, has been specially developed to remove copper and other heavy metals from your aquarium water.

The CupriSorb resin beads can be used continuously in the aquarium, and as they absorb more and more copper, their color changes until they become a deep blue color, at which point, the resin can be regenerated by soaking it in muriatic acid.

I use some CupriSorb in the filters of just about every shrimp tank I have, just in case any heavy metals enter my tanks, either through water changes or leach from the gravel substrate.

10. Contaminants in the Water

There are countless contaminants that can enter our aquariums and kill our shrimp. Vapor from scented candles, perfume, hand lotion, body sprays, this list goes on. The air around us is full of hundreds of different chemicals, many of which can enter our aquariums when they come into contact with the water surface.

There can be few signs a contaminant has entered the aquarium. Occasionally there may be a slight film across the water surface, indicating the presence of the contaminant.

Many contaminants will have no ill effect on our shrimp at all. However, on the occasions when the shrimp are affected, swift action will prevent the shrimp from dying.

Solution:

If you believe your Red Cherry Shrimp may be dying due to containments in the water, start by carrying out a large water change. Changing 50% of the tank water straight away will reduce the concentration of the container by half.

The next step is to use activated carbon. Activated carbon is a filter additive that absorbs many different contaminants (including excess plant fertilizer and fish medications) out of the water, making the water cleaner and safer for your shrimp.

Activated carbon can also reduce smells coming from your aquarium water and remove the weak tea color the water can turn when bogwood is added to the tank.



11. Water Temperature is Incorrect or Fluctuates

Red Cherry Shrimp are incredibly hardy, and they can survive in a wide range of water temperatures. However, they tend to struggle when the water temperature fluctuates over a short period of time.

Sudden rises or drops in temperature can have a negative effect on Red Cherry Shrimp and can lead to large numbers of them dying over a short space of time.

The ideal water temperature for a Red Cherry Shrimp colony is between 72°F and 84°F (22°C and 29°C) but they can survive in water which is as low as 50°F (10°C). With that said, temperature stability is more important than a specific number on the thermometer.

Solution:

There are 3 key steps to maintaining stable water temperatures. These are;

  • Water Volume
  • Aquarium Heater
  • Accurate Thermometer

Water Volume

The greater the volume of water there is in an aquarium, the less the temperature fluctuates over time. The temperature in a 5,000-gallon tank moves far more slowly than that in a 5-gallon tank.

As such, the larger the aquarium we keep our Red Cherry Shrimp in, the less of a problem water temperature fluctuations are.

Aquarium Heater

Needless to say, an aquarium heater’s sole job is to keep the tank water warm. However, good-quality aquarium heaters tend to be better and more accurate than the cheaper ones. If in your Red Cherry Shrimp tank you are using a cheap heater and suffering from temperature swings, consider upgrading your heater.

I have had tremendous success using the E-Series heaters which are made by Fluval. They are a little more expensive, but they are packed full of technology that makes water temperature management easier. See more details about the E-Series including the current price on amazon.com.

Accurate Thermometer

Monitoring aquarium temperature accurately is the first step to discovering whether or not your water temperature is fluctuating. Small digital thermometers like the ones pictured are really cheap (less than $10 on Amazon), but surprisingly accurate.

Adding one like this to your shrimp tank allows you to monitor the water temperate at a glance and will give you the first indications of temperature swings.

12. Water Parameters are Incorrect

Water parameters are essentially the physical and chemical makeup of aquarium water. There are countless different parameters that we can, but don’t necessarily need to monitor. The main parameters that we should all keep an eye on are as follows;

  • Temperature: between 72°F and 84°F (22°C and 29°C)
  • pH: 6.5 – 8.0
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrites: 0ppm
  • Nitrates: 20ppm or less
  • GH: 4-12 dGH
  • KH: 1-8 dKH

Some of the other parameters, which are less important, but sometimes bandied around include TDS (total dissolved solids) and Copper (see point number 9 above).

Solution:

If you are unsure of your current shrimp tank water parameters, purchase an aquarium test kit. I have had good luck using the API Master Test Kit which I just get delivered from Amazon. This simple to use test kit measures all the important water parameters.



13. Stress

Stress is a bit of a catch-all. Stress can and will quickly kill Red Cherry Shrimp. However, just about every item on this list could be causing stress to your Red Cherry Shrimp.

Solution:

You need to discover the source of the stress and try to eliminate it. Bear in mind someone banging on the aquarium glass can cause stress, as can the tank being situated next to a loud TV or speaker.

Whatever the cause of the stress, eliminating it should stop the Red Cherry Shrimp from dying.

14. Ammonia, Nitrites or Nitrates are Too High

When fish go to the bathroom, their waste is very high in ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to both fish and Red Cherry Shrimp. Even at relatively low levels, ammonia can quickly kill Red Cherry Shrimp.

Fortunately, the bacteria in our filters convert the ammonia to the less harmful, but still fairly toxic, nitrite. Nitrites are not as toxic to Red Cherry Shrimp as ammonia, but we should still aim to have 0ppm (parts per million) of nitrites in our aquarium.

There is a different bacteria, which also lives in our filters, which converts nitrites to far less harmful nitrates. Red Cherry Shrimp can tolerate fairly high levels of nitrates, but in an ideal world, the nitrate levels in the water would be kept at 20ppm or less.

If you are unsure of the ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate levels in your Red Cherry Shrimp aquarium, I highly suggest you look into purchasing a water test kit like the API Master Test Kit.

Solution:

The solution to high levels of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate is carrying out a water change. Changing some of the water in the aquarium instantly reduces the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

In my experience, an immediate 50% water change followed by smaller water changes over the following days can rapidly make the water safer for your shrimps.

15. Adding New Plants

Adding new plants to an aquarium seems like a fairly innocuous thing to do. We all know live aquarium plants are beneficial both to our Red Cherry Shrimp and to our aquariums in general. Live aquatic plants help remove lots of the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates that can build up in our tanks.

However, some plant vendors add chemicals to their plant growth tanks to keep the plants free from pests, especially free from snails.

The downside is that when we purchase these plants and add them to our aquariums, the chemicals can still be present on the leaves. The chemicals then enter our water columns and kill our Red Cherry Shrimps.

Solution:

The solution to this problem is twofold.

Firstly, whenever you buy new plants, take some time to rinse them under clean running water. Gently rub all the leaves, without damaging them, making sure any traces of chemicals are removed.

Secondly, only buy plants from reputable vendors. If your local fish store has some good plant display tanks, there is a reasonable chance they supply good quality plants. Ask whether or not their plant tanks are treated with chemicals, and if they are, remember to wash the plants well before adding them to your tank.

If you are struggling to find a decent plant vendor, then why not try WetPlants.com. They have a great selection of plants and I have always found their customer service to be excellent.



16. Shrimp are just old!

Sadly, Red Cherry Shrimp only live for between about 12 and 18 months. No matter how well you set up your tank and how nicely you look after your Red Cherry Shrimp, they won’t last forever.

If you have a large number of adult shrimp dying around the same time, consider the possibility they were all from the same clutch and their time has just come to an end.

Hopefully, if your tank is set up correctly, and you have a good mix of males and females, your colony will naturally increase in size over time and you will always have a good collection of Red Cherry Shrimp.

In Conclusion

As mentioned above, Red Cherry Shrimp should live for between 12 and 18 months. If you find yours are dying prematurely, look through the list above and try and identify which, if any issues you are having. By rectifying the problem early, there is a good chance you can save your remaining shrimp.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

Article Sources:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FA165

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0107673

https://research.nhm.org/pdfs/27732/27732.pdf