Aquariums are beautiful snapshots of nature's underwater grandeur. Designing and preparing an aquarium for its inhabitants can seem like a fairly daunting task. The basic things any successful shrimp aquarium is going to need are: the tank, a filtration system, substrate, plants or decorations, and water. Some of these may seem silly or redundant when approaching our aquarium design, however each deserves particular attention to ensure the long-term health and quality of our mini-ecosystem.
1) The Tank
For shrimp, the tank can be of any size or general shape. Shrimp tend to be healthier and happier in larger tanks, but even a 5 gallon tank can be a happy home for any kind of dwarf shrimp. A large tank, such as a 100 gallon, has several advantages for our tank. The greater the quantity of water in our tank the more stable the chemistry is. Since one of primary concerns in keeping shrimp is having a stable and consistent environment, having a greater quantity of water goes a long way to keeping your tank under control. The reverse is true for especially small tanks, even your regular water change can have dire effects on PH, GH, and KH. Shrimp will also be healthier if they have enough room to swim freely in the water column, which requires at least a 20 gallon tank.
There are a lot of possible avenues for filtration in our shrimp tank. Shrimp have an incredibly low bio-load, or in other words they produce very little waste. In terms of filtration, this means that we don't need as much as a fish tank might require. It is important to consider whether you will be breeding baby shrimp or not in your tank. If there will be any baby shrimp present in your tank it is very important to put sponges or pre-filters over any filter intake to prevent shrimp from being sucked into the filtration system. Sponge filters are the simple way to go, providing all the filtration necessary for a healthy shrimp tank. If you intend to have an especially large colony you may want to consider other more powerful options. Hang on Back filters, and canister filters can both allow a very densely populated colony of shrimp to remain healthy in the aquarium.
Lighting can be a very confusing topic for new aquarium hobbyists. There are a lot of factors to consider including: lumens, watts, Kelvin rating (color temperature), and nanometers. The watts per gallon ratio that is often used is not really sufficient to describe what is actually going on with your lighting source. To make matters more confusing we have the different types of lights such as incandescent, flourescent, and metal halide. For this guide I will simply recommend flourescent lighting of a color temperature as close to 7000K (kelvin rating) and between 2-3 watts per gallon. To better understand lighting take a look at my in depth Lighting Guide.
At first glance, you might not think the choice of substrate is an especially important decision in your aquarium. On the contrary, it has possibly the most lasting impact on the health and success of your aquarium. There are all kinds of substrates ranging from inert substrates that do not impact water chemistry, to zeolite substrates that act as an absorbant for mineral content in the water. First ask yourself if you intend to keep live plants, since the requirements for this are somewhat different. The recommended type of substrate depends on what type of shrimp you are keeping, look at the specific shrimp variety for recommended substrate options. The substrate is where our largest colonies of helpful bacteria will be established. If you have a very dense substrate, such as sand, it can create anaerobic sections in the substrate that prevent these bacteria from thriving. So as a general rule of thumb you want a substrate in pellet form that can allow water to pass between.
While the look of your aqua-scape is ultimately a personal preference, there are some functional elements to consider when keeping shrimp. Shrimp have what is called a thigmotactic response, which means that they constantly want to be crawling or touching surfaces with their many arms. So it is necessary to have many available plants or decorations that they can crawl around on. Underwater ships, divers, shells and rocks are all good choices. Live plants also serve this purpose and in addition are a food source, hiding place, and a safe haven for baby shrimp. Stress is our primary opponent in keeping shrimp. Even if we have no predators in the tank with the shrimp, they feel much safer in a tank that has many nooks and crannies for them to hide in.
6) Water and Maintenance
Providing good source water is crucial to shrimp keeping. Shrimp in general are more sensitive than fish to contaminants or impure water sources. Even the best aquarium layout and equipment is going to require some maintenance. For shrimp, the most important thing is to ensure that the chemical balances in our tank are remaining stable and constant. In order to achieve this I recommend getting a test kit to help measure the various chemical levels of our tank, such as the API Freshwater Master Test Kit. Water changes should ideally be conducted once a week for 10% of the water level of the tank. This helps to ensure that waste chemicals do not build up to dangerous levels for the shrimp.