Saltwater shrimp are a great addition to any reef tank. They add color and movement as well as help keep the water clean. However, not all are considered reef safe. If you’re an aquarium hobbyist and want to add a few invertebrates to your reef tank, you may be wondering which species are best?
The ‘top 10’ saltwater shrimp choices of marine aquarists for a reef tank include banded coral, bumblebee, harlequin, marbled, peacock mantis, pederson’s cleaner, peppermint, pistol, scarlet skunk, and sexy anemone.
Now that you know the top shrimp choices of aquarium hobbyists for reef tank, let’s explore this topic further. We’ll learn more about their temperament and behavior in captivity, what tank size is best, how many you can keep at any given time, and why they’re necessary in an aquarium.
So, if you’re ready to learn more about stocking a reef tank with shrimp, then let’s begin!
What are the Best Shrimps for a Reef Tank?
There are 10 species of saltwater shrimp you can keep in a reef tank. These include the following:
Banded Coral Shrimp
Banded coral or boxer shrimps are reef-safe yet more aggressive than most other invertebrate species. They can’t be kept in groups – no matter how big the tank – and will often fight to the death. A single banded coral shrimp (or mated pair) needs at least a 55-gallon reef tank to remain peaceful.
This species is active and will help keep the tank clean by ridding fish of parasites. Hardy, inexpensive, and easy to care for, banded coral shrimp reach adult lengths of 3 inches and make great tankmates for peaceful fish like chromises, gobies, and grammas – not predatory ones like triggerfish or lionfish.
Bumblebee shrimps are black with yellow or white markings which is how they got their name. Tiny yet appealing, they are perfectly suited for nano reef tanks. They’re constantly active, even during daylight hours which makes them a joy to observe in captivity.
This species feeds on the tube feet of starfish. They’ll also eat frozen brine shrimp that’s been thawed out and cut up. Reaching adult lengths of a mere inch, they’re generally peaceful but don’t tolerate others of their kind. Bumblebee shrimp make great tankmates for non-predatory fish like chromises.
Harlequin shrimps are beautifully colored and active during the day. They’re highly popular with marine aquarists and feast only on starfish. Their picky eating habits can make them challenging, not to mention expensive to feed.
This species is reef safe and prefers to be kept in a mated pair. They grow to about 2 inches in length so a medium-sized tank of at least 30 gallons is recommended. They’re generally peaceful and do well in an aquarium with non-aggressive fish like chromises and various crabs of equal size.
Marbled shrimps are nocturnal and shy. Unique in their appearance, they work hard to keep their tank clean by scavenging the substrate in search of leftover food. Marbled shrimps are peaceful, inexpensive, and easy to care for.
This species is reef safe and won’t pick at corals or live rock. Because they remain relatively small (2 inches or less in length when full-grown), they can be kept in smaller tanks (20- to 25-gallons) and make great tankmates for peaceful marine fish like chromises, gobies, and grammas.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
Peacock mantis shrimps are not really shrimp but rather crustaceans known as stomatopods. They’re known for their large eyes and active nature. They come in a variety of colors including red, blues, and greens and use their whip-like tails to defend against predatory attacks.
This species can get quite large – up to 8 inches – so they need a big reef tank (at least 75-gallons or more). They prefer to eat live foods but will also accept soft meaty prepared foods. They should be kept alone in an aquarium as they’ll attack and eat almost any smaller tankmate.
Pederson’s Cleaner Shrimp
Pederson’s cleaner shrimp are small and peaceful. They originate in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean, which is why they have such bright, beautiful coloring. Their large white antennae hard work to rid tankmates of parasites and keep the aquatic environment clean.
This species is sociable and likes to be kept in groups of at least 3 or more. They’re tiny (only about an inch in length) so they can be kept in small nano reef tanks. As omnivores, they’ll eat both plant- and meat-based foods and make great tankmates for chromises and grammas.
Peppermint shrimps are easy to maintain and popular with aquarists. They’ll only eat dead corals so they’re perfect for a small to medium sized reef tank. Peppermint shrimp stay small (less than 2 inches long) and help keep the tank clean by scouring the substrate in search of uneaten food and detritus.
This species is non-aggressive and can be kept with other peaceful crustaceans like scarlet hermit crabs. They take up little space and won’t attack each other so you can have a group of 4 or more, depending on the size of your tank. Gentle fish like chromise, gobies, and grammas also make good mates.
Pistol shrimps get their name from a specialized claw that fires a short ranged ‘bullet’ of sonic energy and water at their prey. This action is loud and stuns the victim, usually tiny fish, snails, or crab. They will, however, eat prepared or frozen meaty foods if offered.
This species stays small (between 1 and 3 inches in length) and won’t pick at corals so they’re perfect for a reef tank. Easy to moderate care is required as well as the addition of iodine to the water for molting purposes. They make the ideal tank mates for gobies and other peaceful fish.
Sexy Anemone Shrimp
Sexy anemone shrimps are a great addition to any reef tank setup, even a nano version. These small, brightly colored invertebrates are unique in both appearance and behavior and can be kept together in groups of at least 4 or 5.
This species is gentle so it can be housed with other crustaceans like emerald crabs and nassarius snails. As scavengers, they spend most of their time combing the tank in search of algae and debris. They make great tankmates for peaceful fish like chromises and grammas.
Scarlet Skunk Shrimp
Scarlet skunk shrimps are a type of ‘cleaner’ shrimp and ideal for a variety of saltwater aquariums, especially reef tank setups. Their unique behavior of climbing into the mouths of their tankmates to clean between teeth and gill arches is a marvel to behold!
This species is gentle and easy to care for. Vibrantly colored and reef-safe, they’ll eat frozen meaty foods as well as nibble on algae. Perfect for smaller tanks (20- to 30- gallon tanks), they stay small – around 2 inches long – and can be kept with almost any peaceful fish. Avoid keeping with hawkfish or pufferfish.
How Many Shrimps Can You Have in a Reef Tank?
The number of shrimps you can keep in a reef tank depends not only on the size of the aquarium but also the temperament of the shrimp themselves as well as that of their tankmates. The key is to not to overstock the tank. I’d personally suggest an inch of fish for every 2.5 gallons of water.
Why are Shrimp Good for Saltwater Tanks?
Shrimp are good for saltwater tanks because they’re fun to watch, easy to care for, and help keep the tank clean. They feast on leftover food and detritus that can alter the water parameters and make it toxic for fish. They also nibble on excess algae which, if overgrown, can rob the tank of oxygen.
What Shrimp aren’t Good for a Reef Tank?
Invertebrates that eat or harm corals aren’t good choices for a reef tank. The 2 species that usually come to mind include:
Camel or candy shrimps look like peppermint shrimps except for the pronounced hump on their backs. They have large, reflective eyes that help them see at night. Their nocturnal by nature and highly proficient tank cleaners. This species will eat corals and therefore is not suitable for a reef tank.
Fire or blood shrimps are bright red in appearance and a joy to observe in captivity. Gentle and timid, they’re nocturnal by nature and as a result are rarely seen in a normally lit reef tank. As well, they prey primarily on polyps, so they’re not considered reef safe.
To conclude, the 10 best shrimps for a reef tank are typically smaller in size and relatively peaceful by nature. Banded coral, bumblebee, harlequin, marbled, peacock mantis, pederson’s cleaner, peppermint, pistol, scarlet skunk, and sexy anemone are the most popular shrimp choices for aquarists.
I hope you’ve found this article to be both interesting and informative. Thanks for reading and good luck with your saltwater aquarium hobby!