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The Humble Cherry Shrimp

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  • The Humble Cherry Shrimp

    The Humble Cherry Shrimp

    cherryshrimp (6).jpg
    A Very Mature Female Cherry Shrimp, Photo by Dazzabozza

    Many of us know of the Humble Cherry Shrimp, Some adoringly and others who point there noses up with disgust of such a common and "beginner" shrimp.

    It's Latin Name is Neocaridina denticulata sinensis "variation red". The Wild Neocaridina denticulata sinensis, Being a little clear / muddy brown shrimp found in Taiwan, China and Vietnam.

    The Red Variation we all know and Love or Hate is thought to have been "Line Bred" from a red mutation from a keepers tank possibly somewhere in Taiwan. The keeper having spent possibly years progressively breeding this red mutation and culling the offspring and breeding the best juveniles back with the red parent, to eventually create the little shrimp we know as a cherry shrimp! It is difficult to believe that the potentially billions of cherry shrimps found in aquarium keepers tanks across the world all come from either a single parent, or a very very small group of parents.

    When, What?

    About 5-6 years ago now, the cherry shrimp found its way to Australia, it is somewhat important to understand that the Cherry Shrimp is NOT a Legal import, and trying to import, or getting some posted to you from overseas is totally illegal, there is no way around that either, and recently there has been cases of people mindlessly ordering shrimps from overseas by mail, only to find themselves spending real time in real prison as a result.

    So how did they get here then? Well as with a majority of recently discovered or "line bred" fish and shrimps someone has somehow and i don't want to know nor do i know the details, smuggled them into the country illegally. Although i really have no idea i would imagine that only a small QTY made there way into Australia initially, and it's fair to consider that all the cherry shrimps in Australia are bred from the small qty that originally arrived in Australia. In the last 4 years I have bred literally more than 8000 of these little shrimp, in fact i stopped estimating at about 8000 maybe a year or more ago, no idea of the real amount. But this be case in point there could be quite easily be half a million, maybe even more than a million of these little cherrys here in Australia. All from that original small imports gene pool.

    cherryshrimp (3).jpg
    A Young Female Cherry shrimp around 13mm showing great future colour potential.

    The Good and The Bad

    This little shrimp has really proven itself to be a real survivor, surviving water conditions that would send any other shrimp to heaven. Being virtually unbothered by water Hardness and PH, managing to survive rediculous temperature variations and even coping with nitrate and phosphate levels that would knock off any other shrimp. Not only this but there incredibly small biological footprint means they can be kept in insanely small water bodys without turning them toxic. All this adds up to a fantastic beginner shrimp that is hardy and tolerant of a wide range of conditions. On top of this they prove easy to breed for most keepers and can be so prolific that in no time flat you have more shrimp than you ever wanted. There capability to breed so rapidly making them ideal for the community aquarium where smaller shrimp may be eaten, they make up for it in producing serious numbers of shrimplets so at least a few of each batch make it to adult size where they are safe from the mouths of most small community fish.

    Some keepers report frustration of not being able to get there cherry shrimp to breed where everyone else can't get rid of them fast enough, and often the problem lies in "too much love". With cherrys and some other varietys of shrimp we keep, "less is more". Constant non needed water changes can upset your shrimp and stop them from breeding, unless dissolved solids are rising rapidly (nitrates/phosphates) Leave them alone and they will get on with the business of reproduction.

    The problem with these shrimp is that if released into our waterways, they have proven they could easily and rapidly breed into potentially plague proportions. Protecting our waterways is number one priority for all aquarium keepers so never release your shrimp in public waters and NEVER keep them in a outdoor pond that could overflow, or be washed in a flood into our native waterways. I realise it might seem as if such a tiny shrimp couldn't cause too much trouble for our native species, but understand there ability to produce such sheer numbers in virtually any water conditions they could easily rapidly out compete our delicate native species for food and space. These shrimp have been released into the native waterways in hawaii and have made significant impact on native species there. This is just one of many of the reasons why these little shrimp are not a legal import species. If we want to be able to keep a larger variety of fish and shrimps in the future, we must prove to authoritys we are responsible enough to be trusted and that exotic species will never find there way into our native waterways.

    The Boys and The Girls

    Unlike the well known Crystal Red Shrimp (CRS), The Red Cherry Shrimps (RCS) Male and Females are "noticeably" different. The Male generally is fairly clear, although depending on the individuals genes some males may show a little more red or clear, and possibly although rare, even some patterning. The female is the true beauty, not only does she become much redder and often totally solid red, the female also grows larger than the male. In young cherry shrimp it is difficult to tell male from female as the females do not begin to show specific female traits until around 10-12mm in size, sometimes you cannot tell until they reach 15mm or more. Although you could say redder juveniles are likely female and clear ones are likely males, there is no guarantee. The first true sign of any female is when she shows a yellow-ish "saddle" under the back of there shell, this appears as a solid diamond shape on there back and is the female producing yet to be fertilized eggs, additionally a mature female will have a deeper rounder lower section of her tail, until then telling the difference between a nice and red male, or a immature female can be more difficult.

    cherryshrimp (4).jpg
    A group of feeding Cherry Shrimp, Notice the occasional young female carrying a saddle. Also notice the small male cherry on the back of the large mature female. Look closely at the vast amount of variation in appearance due to genes, age and environment.


    Without any question part of the appeal of keeping shrimps is breeding them, and as mentioned above cherrys are very happy to get on with reproduction in just about any keepers tank! The process of breeding cherrys begins when the female reaches about 12 weeks old (usually around 11-13mm in size), at this point the female will begin to produce eggs in her (as explained above) "saddle" after 1-2 weeks the female will "moult" leaving a empty white/clearish shell behind (both males and females will moult occasionally in order to grow). Once this occurs she puts out phermones into the water, this sends all the males in the tank into a frenzy and you'll know when it happens because they all zoom around the tank searching for her! When the male finds the recently moulted mature female shrimp a short mating occurs. Soon after the fertilized eggs are released to under the tail of the female shrimp (which is then known as "berried"). The quantity of eggs they produce depends on there age/size, however the eggs are quite large so expect around 20-30 on average.

    Approx 3 weeks later the female cherry shrimp will release fully functioning baby cherry shrimp. On release the baby cherry shrimps are around 3-3.5mm long and generally totally clear and can begin to eat the same foods as there parents, however plenty of moss provides not only good cover for your juveniles but a massive surface area of microalgae and microbacteria that your baby shrimp will eat and live on for the first 2-3 weeks of there lives, as a result live plants, mosses and or, a mature sponge filter will improve survival of shrimplets. Remember to cover your filter intake to stop baby shrimps from being sucked into your filter.

    cherryshrimp (2).jpg
    A Mature Female approx 10-12 months old berried with baby shrimps. Notice the little black eyes on some of the eggs suggesting they will be released in the next week or so.

    How Big? How Old?

    Cherry shrimp are not a particularly long lived shrimp, in captivity you can expect around 12-18 months although upwards of 2 years is not unusual. The average size of a adult female cherry shrimp is around 18-20mm and males around 14-16mm. Cherrys will grow bigger in larger tanks that are less crowded and very old males exceeding 20mm and females exceeding 30mm is possible, although this size would suggest a age of 18 months or more. Moving/buying a shrimp that big is probably not a good idea as they might be going to die any day now. On average cherry shrimp are normally sold at around 10-12 weeks old with a size of 10-15mm. The best colouration may not display until they reach 6 months of age or more so unless your looking for a specific trait, it's not the best idea to pick the biggest prettiest shrimp of the bunch as you might be just buying a useless old lady.

    cherryshrimp (5).jpg
    This female cherry is at least 2 years old and is around 30-35mm in size, she looked like a real monster in the breeder tank, although sadly she passed away a week or so after this pic was taken.

    Mine don't look like the pictures?

    A common theme among new shrimp keepers is a complaint that there cherry shrimp are clearish and washed out, this is nothing exclusive and there is a number of things you can do to ensure your shrimps are comfortable enough to display at there fullest potential. First thing is to ensure that your water is in good order, that Ammonia and Nitrite are reading 0ppm and not even slightly more, those figures MUST be 0. Phosphates and Nitrates should preferably be less than 10ppm. Finally copper is sometimes found in tap or tank water and this is lethal to your shrimps and if this is in your water you can expect to lose some. Secondly cherry shrimps do have a mild ability to alter the depth of there colour to suit there surroundings, as a result shrimp kept on white sand or on bare bottom tanks often will never show there full colour potential, a Dark or natural coloured substrate with plenty of cover from plants and mosses will give the best chance of each shrimp showing it's fullest colour potential. It's also worth noting that cherry shrimp may dull off in colour during the night and recover there colour as the sun comes up, most keepers never experience this as you need to get up at 1am and flick the light on and surprise em half to death to see it!

    cherryshrimp (7).jpg
    A comfortable habitat with dark surroundings and plenty of cover can help your shrimp show there fullest colour potential.

    What do I feed them?

    Cherry shrimp live on microbacteria, microalgae, soft plant algaes, decaying plant matter and other dead fish or shrimp. They like nothing better than to tuck into a ex tankmate, even if it's there mother!! As far as feeding them, the good old algae wafer or wafers designed for bottom feeders will be more than adequate, but in reality they will eat any fish food of any description be it flake, pellets, wafers, frozen foods or otherwise. Most shrimp have quite a liking to frozen bloodworm and other meaty treats. Many keepers like to feed there shrimp blanched vegetables like deshelled peas, pumpkin, carrot, even cucumber. I would avoid any land animal meats (beef,lamb ect) as these contain proteins and fats that there digestive systems would have never seen and are unlikely to be able to process correctly possibly leading them to illness. Any of the commercially available shrimp specific foods will also be an ideal food, is any better than the others? possibly but for the humble cherry shrimp its not neccessary to get too caught up in the hype, as long as your shrimp are meeting there dietry needs no food is able to improve colour or health further than that.

    Some keepers often explain confusion finding there expensive exotic shrimp foods contain copper as an ingredient. Although copper is toxic to shrimps, the amount and type found in commercial foods is both neither the right type or amount to be harmful to your shrimp. In fact what is contained is essential fo the good health of your shrimp. You also need not be concerned with trace amounts of copper found in aquarium specific fertilizers, unless you plan to tip the whole bottle in, this is a non issue.

    Better or Worse Genes?

    A heated topic among cherry keepers around the world, many believing that it is not possible to improve the red in a cherry through genes and that colour is dependant entirely on mood, health and environment. For a long time i will humbly admit i was on this bandwagon, much because i really only bred cherrys for the sake of having a few extra bucks to keep my fishy hobby going. As a result i had literally thousands going at any one time in a 150L tank and didn't really pay that much attention to any individual cherry shrimp. A cherry shrimp was a cherry shrimp as many a CRS enthusiast might chant, this was also what i thought to be true. Over time however I did notice that some females and males showed better colour than others, and put this mostly down to age which to be honest in most circumstances is the case as many females don't show there full potential until even the 6 month mark, following the same single female over the period is not a task that can be taken unless you are able to separate it long term.

    Eventually however i begin to notice other traits like some having the frosty stripe and others not at all, for some time i even had alot showing quite a bit of blue on there body. (I did remove these to work on the colour but sadly lost the lot to a mistake, although alot of that gene is floating around Australia right now.) More Recently i have focused on a different patterns and have discovered that the patterns have persisted throughout the entire life of the particular shrimp, even if i move them to another tank, although they might get a bit dull, the trait persists. After a moult the shell will be clear for a few days however the patterns and traits recover each time without fault. Due to Sexual Dimorphism there is no way of choosing a male with similar trait, as a result only a small percentage of the juveniles showed similar traits, but the trait persisted none the less.

    cherryshrimp (1).jpg
    Notice that one shrimp in this picture is clearly a different shade of red than the rest, this is a slightly different mutation in the gene at work.

    Of course genes must matter as the original shrimp is essentially made by a mutation in the original clear/brown shrimps genes, there is a blue mutation of the wild cherry which is sold in asia, but here in Australia myself included we have had the blue mutation occur within our own very minimal cherry shrimp gene pool. It is then without any doubt that one shrimp may be more or less red dependent to a certain extent on there genes. Sadly cherrys are much harder to work with in terms of trying to achieve a certain appearance or fix a certain trait due to sexual dimorphism and the period of time required before certain traits become obvious (sometimes up to 6 months). Because cherrys are so much more difficult and time consuming to "line breed" than the popular Crystal Red Shrimp virtually nobody bothers, and many CRS enthusiasts even refuse to believe that any difference in traits are real.

    This isn't however a reason to believe you have inferior cherry shrimp genes, as many other factors effect cherry shrimp appearance it's important to ensure that another factor isn't your problem first. It is highly common for someone to buy what where fantastically deep dark red shrimp only to find them go all pale and boring in there own tanks for the rest of the shrimps life.

    The other issue we face is the so called "Sakura", "Fire Red" or "Rili" Cherry shrimp variations coming out of Asia, with Australian keepers looking at pictures on the net, then looking in there own tanks to spot what looks like is in the picture and start saying thats what there particular randomly similar appearanced shrimp is!!

    The reality is that alot of work has to go into producing a gene through line breeding that continues to produce consistant appearance juveniles, simply one random shrimp that looks like a picture does not make it able to consistantly produce that appearance. Even so these so called Fire Reds, Sakuras and the like still produce the odd poor gene shrimp. It is impossible to know if offered a so called Fire Red, Sakura, Rili or otherwise cherry shrimp if they originate from those overseas produced gene pool or if the seller is just selling something that looks the same. If they did have the real thing, then that means it had to have been illegally smuggled in, and quite recently.


    All in all, this readily and cheaply available shrimp is a true gem, and an ideal shrimp for both beginners and experienced alike.

    I may modify/addition to this article periodically.

    Last edited by Juls; 31-10-11, 06:21 AM.

  • #2
    Wow great write up Juls, a lot of effort put into this. +1 for a sticky !


    • #3
      Hey Juls
      You got a wrong topic XD
      Becoz you have nice shrimp, information and everything!!
      Good job!


      • #4
        that was a good read.


        • #5
          I agree with u re recent imports but I think it's important for people to know that they could get in trouble doing it. I'm certain some things (like mosses) are mindlessly ordered on the net from overseas by someone with no idea they are doing anything wrong. If they get caught it makes us all look bad.



          • #6
            Impressive. Thanks for your time in writing this up


            • #7
              Awesome write up Juls, super informative!! i'll be spreading my moss out after reading this article... I have been keeping a close eye on 2 females who's saddle of eggs are super visible, will see how the shrimpet will go amongst the other fish...they seem to be survivors amongst my tank of guppies of 3 weeks so far.


              • #8
                Fantastic write up Juls. Not my choice in shrimp (Go the Chameleon!) but you've certainly covered the topic well and made them more appealing to more than just beginners.

                Consider it stuck!
                If it swims it's good, if it's Sahul it's better!


                • #9
                  Another fantastic write up by JUls

                  Well done mate, a well deserved sticky !!

                  Read this very helpful thread on BSS .
                  No pictures on your BSS advert? Then be prepared for it to be deleted ( read the rules )


                  • #10
                    thanks Juls, obviously a lot of time and effort went into this very constructive post. I have just sold 3/4 of my cherries so hopefully the genes i had can be spread around. i am still running a tank with my best and fairest, i also just aquired 3 males with very solid colour, very unlike most males i have seen or produced myself. my LFS had them and i will have to check where they sourced them from.

                    it is hard to believe that 1 million RCS could come from just a few smuggled in. same for CRS i suppose. it's stupid, but i am thankful for it happening.

                    but thanks again your work.
                    Amateur Shrimpkeeper


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by foxpuppet View Post
                      it is hard to believe that 1 million RCS could come from just a few smuggled in.
                      Foxpuppet, this is a very worthwhile note to reinforce again to everyone "be super careful & DONT GET ANY OF THESE THINGS INTO OUR WATERWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

                      Great write up Juls on a hard working inclusion to our beloved aquarium keeping hobby. Keep up the good work mate, your contributions on this forum make it an awesome resource and great community to be a part of.

                      Last edited by bardus71; 31-10-11, 08:40 AM.
                      Bardus's Scape History Photo Album


                      • #12
                        nice write-up thanks Juls and 2nd-ing what bardus said, dont let them get into native waterways if you can help it, they are true surviors!

                        it would be interesting to also look at the rili's, yellows, blues and other variants of cherrys?


                        • #13
                          Thanx jules
                          very interesting write up and written really well. Had me hooked all the way.and learnt a little more
                          About the line breeding and colour stuff

                          Thanx heaps


                          • #14
                            Thanks Juls, that's a clear and interesting read, and covers all the points I've been asking.


                            • #15
                              Couldn't agree more with the 'less is more statement' I haven't touched my shrimp in yonks and they've just started breeding!
                              THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE - Tank Journal ~


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