A Shrimp Situation

The smallest of critters require the biggest of care.

A furry cleaner shrimp peers out from brilliant orange coral. Photo Credit: Alexander Vasenin

I was recently overcome with the need for a pet shrimp. How this came about was through an entire weekend of cleaning my room and listening to some really uppity music.

My bloodstream was filled with the boppin’ tunes of Brockhampton and Euringer. Whilst sorting piles of clothing donations and polishing my paperclip collection, I became empowered.

I felt like a feminist going to their first public rally. A cocker spaniel that just learned how to open doors. In one word: unstoppable.

This feeling required a physical show of exuberance. A monument to my cleaner, more efficient being. A talisman to bring upon me good fortune and grades for the new semester.

I needed a pet shrimp. On my desk. In an aquarium.

Almost immediately, I set off to the pet store to admire their small, square tanks. What PH water would my baby need? What food?

Would he be lonely? Or too territorial to handle a friend, and sooner cannibalize him than buddy up? Interpersonal shrimp issues aside, I figured any problems that come up I could handle.

I had chosen a small, rather charming, 3.5 gallon square tank and approached the tall, scruffy skater boy dutifully scrubbing the algae off a tank.

“Excuse me,” I began proudly clutching my small tank, “I am hoping to buy a cleaner shrimp.” With a quick glance from skater boy, all my shrimpy dreams were dashed.

“You’re going to need at least a 20 gallon tank.” A what? That would be 2 feet long. The size of a napping kindergartner.

The height of a standard votive candle. The width matches the length of my foot. And for a creature roughly two inches?

Something fishy was afoot, and it wasn’t the baby koi puttering about in the nursery tank.

Tankless and curious, I drove home ready to enlighten myself.

A shrimp poses delightfully on an anemone. Photo Credit: Magnus Manske

Much to my surprise, cleaner shrimp require a lot more than a simple tank. As an animal with an exoskeleton, they require calcium, magnesium, and iodine supplements to rebuild their skin after they shed. This can be added to the water annually, either after each shed, or every few months.

Many professionals that specialize in shrimpy science even recommend an aquarium that can hold 30 gallons or more. A first grader! This size is perfect for additional rocky outcroppings, similar to how their natural habitat looks.

In the wild, these critters would enjoy hiding in hard coral and rocks, coming out to nibble the dead skin off of fish and other dusty customers.

According to Mike, from the website Fishlore, these ocean jewels need a warm environment between 75degrees F and 82degrees F. As a species that originated off the shores of Africa, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, warm waters are vital for this little champion.

At the end, I underestimated these little scuttley babies. And my desk space.

In the future, I hope to have the space for a small, crusty friend. And his massive tank.