Pregnant Ghost Shrimp 101: What to Expect and What to Do

Featured Image - pregnant ghost shrimp
Featured Image – pregnant ghost shrimp
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: February 26, 2024
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Why does my ghost shrimp have green and white spots on its abdomen? Typically, spotting on your marine companion could be worrisome, but here it could indicate that your ghost shrimp is expecting.

Whether you’re breeding ghost shrimp, or just keeping them as tank mates, keep reading for a step-by-step guide to help identify if your ghost shrimp is pregnant, how to care for her, what to feed her, how to separate her from the community tank and how to start caring for your new baby shrimps.

Article Summary

  • Female ghost shrimp can be identified as pregnant by the presence of bright green dots along their abdomen, which are unfertilized eggs; these dots will migrate closer to the saddle for fertilization by male ghost shrimp.
  • Ghost shrimp can produce 20-30 eggs in each successful pregnancy, but not all will hatch into hatchlings.
  • For baby ghost shrimp, feeding with infusoria initially and later with algae powder, ground shrimp flakes, or microworms is recommended.

Can ghost shrimp reproduce on their own?

Ghost Shrimp
Ghost Shrimp

A common misconception is that ghost shrimp are hermaphroditic (an animal that has both female and male sex organs). Hermaphroditic animals are able to reproduce on their own, however, ghost shrimp are a gonochoric species.

Gonochoric species have a female and male sex, both are required for fertilized eggs. Without a male counterpart the female will still produce eggs, however they will not hatch.

FUN FACT

It’s incorrect to call ghost shrimps pregnant. All shrimp are egg layers and do not become pregnant (a term generally used for bearers of live-young). Instead female ghost shrimps are gravid with eggs. In this article we’ll mostly use the term pregnant as that’s what most people refer to gravid ghost shrimp as.

How to tell if a ghost shrimp is pregnant?

When deciding if female ghost shrimps are pregnant or not the first thing you will notice is bright green dots along their abdomen. This is an indication that your female is a gravid shrimp and almost ready for fertilization. These dots are actually unfertilized eggs that will stay in the abdomen region for roughly 7 days.

After a week you’ll see the little green eggs beginning to migrate closer to the saddle. At this stage that male ghost shrimp fertilize the eggs, thus turning them white, this generally takes about a week. Fertilized females will carry for 2.5 to 3 weeks, during the last week the mother shrimp will move her clutch of eggs to a lower part of her tail and use her swimmerets or her rear legs to fan the eggs.

NOTE

Not sure what the saddle is? Pregnant ghost shrimps have a light green spot high up on their back just behind their head. The little green dots or eggs are held on the underside of their belly and migrate along the belly towards the saddle to be in position for fertilization.

I don’t see tiny green dots, is my female ghost shrimp pregnant?

Other ways to tell if a ghost shrimp is pregnant is an increase in size, appetite, and foraging behavior. Leg fanning, sometimes known as splaying, is thought to be performed for two main reasons;

  1. Provide oxygen and aeration to the eggs to regulate temperature
  2. Relieve the discomfort of carrying eggs

RECOMMENDATION

You can keep an air pump in the tank to help your pregnant shrimps aerate their eggs.

How long do ghost shrimp stay pregnant?

pregnant ghost shrimp (hatching eggs)

Ghost shrimp can breed every 30-40 days. Keep in mind that the breeding process takes roughly 5 weeks, depending on how long it takes the male shrimp to fertilize the female’s eggs (1 to 3 weeks). Ghost shrimp can be bred at any time during their adult life, or from ages 3-9 months.

The table below shows ghost shrimp pregnancy from the time a female becomes pregnant until the female ghost shrimp lay eggs. This can help you plan for your baby ghost shrimps and make sure you have enough space to properly care for them!

How often can I breed my ghost shrimp?

Something that I am often asked is whether ghost shrimp die because of breeding? The short answer is no, though breeding consistently shortens their lifespan in my experience. Ghost shrimp generally live 1-1.5 years, meaning that once you’ve bred them 3 or 4 times their bodies might not be able to successfully continue laying eggs.

Fertilization/Egg Laying Timeline

DaysPregnant Ghost Shrimp StagesWhat’s happening?
0Green dots in abdomenThese are unfertilized ghost shrimp eggs that show that your female is gravid
7Green dots migrate towards the saddleThe migration of the unfertilized eggs means that it’s almost time for fertilization
8-14Dots change from green specks to whiteThe male shrimps have successfully fertilized the eggs! Fertilization can take up to 3 weeks (days 8-29), be patient!
15-36Female shrimp has an increase in appetite, foraging, and fanning her rear legsThese are all signs that your female ghost shrimp is definitely pregnant! It takes 3 full weeks for the female to carry her babies to term. Better start thinking about moving her to your separate breeding tank!
29-36Eggs look opaque and swollen, have moved to a lower part of the tailThe last week of gestation, your female is preparing to begin laying eggs
37+Eggs are laidYour pregnant female ghost shrimp has completed the gestation period and has laid her eggs. Once all the hatched ghost shrimp have been distributed into the water column remove the female from the tank.

How many eggs can ghost shrimp produce?

I have learned that how often ghost shrimp get pregnant greatly depends on the temperature of the tank water. The warmer the water temperature, the better it replicates summer months which is when wild ghost shrimp usually mate. Using a reliable heater is the most effective way to initiate mating.

However, keeping your temperature on the high end of the ghost shrimp tolerance range will decrease their lifespan.

How many eggs can ghost shrimp carry per pregnancy?

During each successful breeding pregnant ghost shrimp can carry 20-30 eggs, but the average number of hatchlings that are successfully released into the aquarium varies.

How many times a year can ghost shrimp get pregnant?

Once they reach breeding age each ghost shrimp can get pregnant 4 to 8x per year. Doing the math that means each ghost shrimp produces 80-240 eggs in a year, but most experts agree that only 5-70 will turn into hatchlings.

Can Ghost Shrimp Breed in a Community Tank?

Community Tank
Community Tank

While ghost shrimp can breed in a community tank that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Especially, if your community tank contains bad tank mates such as oscars, cichlids, and other aggressive fish.

In fact, as soon as you notice your female ghost shrimp becoming gravid you should move her and the male ghost shrimps into a breeding tank. Some fish keepers claim that you should place 1 female for every 2 males. I’ve never experienced a difference in fertilization times regardless of how many males are in a tank.

Should I separate a pregnant ghost shrimp from the tank?

Once the female lays her eggs it’s suggested that you remove her from the breeding area as well. There’s no danger of the eggs being eaten before they are laid in community tanks, however, it’s much easier to remove the pregnant ghost shrimp than 20-30 eggs that are the size of pinheads.

Another hazard of leaving ghost shrimp larvae in a community tank is that other fish will eat the eggs and ghost shrimp fry. I recommend using a separate breeding tank until the young ghost shrimp are big enough to be introduced to the community tank around 5 weeks of age.

RECOMMENDATION

If purchasing your ghost shrimp from a pet store or breeder for breeding yourself it’s recommended that you get at least 20 ghost shrimps to ensure that you have a mix of males and females.

Another option for separating your pregnant ghost shrimp from the members of the community tank is hanging a fine mesh basket from the top of your tank. This will allow the female ghost shrimp to safely lay eggs within the mesh basket without interference from other fish.

The benefit of this method is that you don’t have to cycle or maintain a separate tank. However, this does severely limit the amount of ghost shrimp fry you can have at once.

How big of a tank do I need for hatchlings?

Be sure to plan how many babies will fit in your ghost shrimp breeding tank before the eggs hatch. It’s recommended that you have a minimum tank size of 5 gallons with a maximum of 8-10 ghost shrimp per gallon, in my experience 3-4 ghost shrimp per gallon is a better number and allows plenty of foraging room for all ghost shrimps.

These tank size requirements apply to adult shrimps (2 inches long), or after 3 months of age.

NOTE

Note: 5 weeks of age refers to from the time the baby shrimps were free-swimming, not from the time the eggs were laid!

How do I set-up a breeding tank for ghost shrimp?

Before your ghost shrimp emerge from the hatched eggs, you should start cycling the intended breeding tank. We’ve included some of the water parameters in the table below. Cycling a tank for your baby ghost shrimps should be no different than cycling other tanks.

Breeding Tank Water Parameters
Water Temperature78-82 F
pH7.0-8.0
Water Hardness3-10 kH
Light LevelLow

What should I put in the tank?

Ghost shrimp are omnivorous and while you should feed your ghost shrimp according to the schedule we provide in the next two sections they will also forage for algae and other detritus in the water column. Hatchlings can begin foraging as soon as 48 hours after becoming free-swimming.

Therefore, provide live plants, terracotta pots or other decor where algae will collect to allow foraging behavior. Substrates such as sand or fine gravel will also be helpful for hatchlings as it will give them more foraging places and traction along the bottom of the tank.

RECOMMENDATION

I suggest using a sponge filter and air pump in the baby shrimp tank.

My tank is set up, now how do I maintain it?

Even more important than the initial set up is the maintenance of the tank, the most common mistake: forgetting to change the water.

It’s important to have high quality water in your tank at all times when dealing with pregnant ghost shrimp and newborn ghost shrimp. You should perform a 20% water change every 1 to 2 weeks to ensure that you are ridding the tank of harmful substances while maintaining the levels of important minerals and elements.

20% water changes every 1 to 2 weeks is a good rule of thumb if your tank is well cycled, however you should monitor water parameters to see if you should do bigger or smaller water changes.

Tank Refill

When refilling your tank after a water change make sure that the new water is close to your tank parameters in regards to temperature, pH, hardness, nitrite, and nitrate levels.

You also want to make sure that you are either using bottled spring water (not distilled!) or tap water that has been dechlorinated. Other neutralizers may be needed depending on your source of water.

RECOMMENDATION

How frequently you perform water changes depends on the size of your tank and your bioload. For example, it’s recommended that you have 3-4 adult shrimp per gallon, and the minimum tank size is 5 gallons.

If you have 20 adult ghost shrimp (the max amount of biomass) in a 5 gallon tank you are probably going to have to do frequent or large water changes. If you have 20 adult shrimp in a 10 gallon tank you will have to do less frequent or smaller water changes.

Nitrate Level

Help! My ghost shrimp hatchling tank has a nitrate level of 10ppm! How big of a water change should I do??

For this example we’re going to assume that the tank in question is 10 gallons. Nitrate is a dissolved substance which means it’s equally distributed throughout the water column, in other words, 1ppm of nitrate per gallon of water. Nitrate levels are considered high if they are above 5-10ppm. In this tank, we’re going to try to get nitrate levels down to 3ppm.

A change of 7ppm means 7 gallons of the water need to be replaced or a 70% water change. This might seem drastic but a high amount of nitrates in the water can cause ammonium burns and even death. It’s especially important to monitor these levels in your breeding and hatchling tanks because pregnant ghost shrimp and ghost shrimp fry are especially sensitive to these changes.

What do Pregnant Ghost Shrimp Eat?

Fish Food
Fish Food

Pregnant ghost shrimps eat a mix of plant matter, organic matter, and other animals. During pregnancy you should be feeding your pregnant ghost shrimps a variety of algae wafers, small plant matter, microworms, and detritus or debris twice a day. You can also supplement her diet with additional nutrition using sources such as water soluble vitamins, nutrient-rich wafers, or high quality shrimp flakes.

It’s easy to overdose on these supplements and while it won’t necessarily do your ghost shrimp any harm, it’s also not beneficial. Aim to feed additional nutrition sources to your pregnant ghost shrimp no more than once a week.

Foraging

You should provide live plants in both the community and breeding tank for your pregnant ghost shrimp to provide foraging opportunities during all stages of pregnancy. Ghost shrimps are foragers by nature and will supplement their diet themselves by finding algae or particles in the water column.

TIP

Aquatic plants need high levels of dissolved oxygen and good circulation, keeping an air pump in your tank can help keep your plants and ghost shrimp happy!

Remember, you should feed your female shrimps good quality food so they lay good quality eggs!

Baby Ghost Shrimp Care and Feeding

Congratulations! You have 20-30 eggs that are about to hatch, but how are you going to care for them?

Luckily, you’ve already established the tank for your new baby shrimp. The breeding tank you set up and cycled at the beginning of this process can also serve as a nursery for your newborn shrimp. It’s important to note that you will likely need to do more water changes as a nursery tank then you did as a breeding tank as hatchlings make much more waste than eggs.

Feeding your baby shrimp is perhaps the most challenging aspect of care due to their tiny mouths. For the first few days we recommend feeding your babies infusoria. After 48 hours of free-swimming the baby ghost shrimp are able to forage and you can start feeding them algae powder, ground shrimp flakes, or tiny microworms. Other options include liquid fry food, sinking wafers, soft vegetables, or baby brine shrimp.

Transfer to Main Aquarium

After 5 weeks your baby ghost shrimp are ready to be introduced to the main aquarium. Before introduction, make sure to adjust them slowly to the water parameters of your community tank so they aren’t shocked. Then keep an eye on them for 48-72 hours and be ready with nutrient supplements in case they aren’t as efficient at foraging as the adult ghost shrimp in your community tank.

Wrapping up

In this guide we’ve looked at many aspects of pregnant shrimp identification and care. At the end of the day there’s no one way to breed ghost shrimp and it does take some experimentation to find the best set up for you. Closely monitoring your ghost shrimp is the best way to identify fertility and the various stages of pregnancy.

We think you’re ready to start caring for your own ghost shrimp, and wish you luck in your new aquarium adventure! As always let us know what you think about this article and share this post if you found it helpful!

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