Can you keep bettas and cherry shrimp together?

Bettas are territorial fish and opportunistic predators. As carnivores, some of the food they eat are insects, larvae, bloodworms, and even brine shrimp. Does that mean that a betta can also eat cherry shrimp? Can they live together?

In this post, we will talk about cherry shrimp, their characteristics, whether they can live with a betta, and what to do to make sure that both are fine as tank mates. 

Can you keep bettas and cherry shrimp together?

Yes, you can keep cherry shrimp and bettas together. While it’s true that some bettas don’t get along with other tank mates, it is still possible to make it happen provided there’s good planning behind it.

Overview of Cherry Shrimp

The cherry shrimp (Neocaridina heteropoda) is a dwarf freshwater shrimp from the  Atyidae family, native to Taiwan. In the wild, they live in ponds and streams with a rocky substrate that is surrounded by plants. You can also find them under the names of Red Cherry Shrimp or simply RCS. They are very peaceful and low-maintenance.

Cherry shrimp appearance

Although they can display various colors in the wild, they are often red in the aquarium trade.  This is due to selective breeding. Currently, cherry shrimps can be graded depending on the shade and depth of red they present:

  • Cherry Shrimp: they are known as regular cherry shrimp and are mainly clear in color with red patches;
  • Sakura Cherry Shrimp: slightly redder in color but also has clear patches on their body;
  • Fire Red Shrimp: completely red.
  • Painted Fire Red Shrimp: they are solid deep red (including the legs) with no transparent areas. 

Female cherry shrimp are always more colorful and larger than males. Adult female cherry shrimps have a saddle on their stomach that holds their eggs before they are fertilized. They are also longer than males, reaching 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long, while males are slightly smaller. Cherry shrimps are hardy and can live between one to two years.

Cherry shrimp behavior

Cherry shrimps are peaceful and don’t display aggressive behavior. Since they can’t defend themselves, cherry shrimps can easily be seen as a snack by other fish. Hence, their tank mates must be chosen carefully.

They keep themselves busy through the whole day grazing on algae, moss, plants, or substrate. Cherry shrimps usually live in groups, so get at least 10 shrimps to your tank. If you have less than10 shrimps, they might start to fight to establish hierarchy.

Cherry shrimp diet

Cherry shrimps are omnivores and scavengers by nature. They can be fed with high-quality pellets, frozen foods, and blanched vegetables like spinach, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, and zucchini in very small pieces. Remove any uneaten food from your tank so it doesn’t interfere with the water quality of your tank.

These shrimps also feed on algae. Although they will eat the algae from your tank, cherry shrimps are not able to clean the whole tank. 

As any arthropods, cherry shrimps shed their exoskeleton as they grow. So, you neither have to worry nor remove the exoskeleton. They will eat it as a way to recover all its essential minerals.

Cherry shrimp breeding

Cherry shrimp are one of the easiest shrimp species to breed provided they’re well taken care of. They get sexually mature when they are 4 to 6 months old and can start breeding once settled in an aquarium which takes about 3 to 5 months.

They need a heavily planted tank so they can be comfortable and feel safe. If you have a community tank, it’s best to keep them separated. They must be fed with high-protein foods and the temperature should be raised to 82 F (27.8 °C) to mimic their breeding season.

Once they have mated, the female cherry shrimp will keep the eggs underneath its tail. She often fans to make sure the eggs are oxygenated. It takes 30 days for the eggs to hatch. Cherry shrimps don’t display signs of parental care leaving the baby shrimps to fend for themselves.

Baby shrimps should be kept in a matured aquarium since it contains the microorganisms that they need during their early diet. They can also eat plants. Anacharis is a good option for them.

Cherry shrimp tank setup

Cherry shrimps are hardy organisms that will make a great addition to your tank. They can live in tanks as small as 5 gallons but if you intend on having 10 shrimps or more then a 10-gallon tank is better. For a colony, a minimum of a 20-gallon tank would suffice. You can allocate 2 to 5 shrimps per gallon. 

As for water parameters, their ideal pH level should be between 6.5 and 8.0, and the temperature around 65 to 85 F. Cherry shrimps don’t have a specific light requirement so, the light used for the plants will do.

Regarding plants, cherry shrimps need a heavily planted set up with plenty of shelter and hiding spots that replicate their natural habitat. Make sure you include driftwood and moss. They will eat the algae that grow on the driftwood, and hide within the moss. Small pebbles make a great substrate to their tank.

Although cherry shrimps are hardy creatures, they are very sensitive to copper, ammonia, and nitrate. Copper is usually found in various medications and fish food so, always check the label. If you have a sick fish together with cherry shrimp it’s best to remove the fish and quarantine it to avoid your shrimps getting poisoned by copper.

The water must be cleaned and its parameters checked regularly, once ammonia and nitrate spikes can be lethal to your cherry shrimp. Having a lot of plants in the tank is a great option since they absorb them to use as a fertilizer. Another option is to add a filter system.

Make sure that your filtration system is not powerful so your shrimps get sucked into it. A sponge filter would be enough to do the job. If you want you can also add an air stone to oxygenate the water. One important thing is to not place cherry shrimps in an uncycled tank because they are very sensitive to nitrites.

Keeping cherry shrimps and bettas together

Interestingly enough, bettas can get along with cherry shrimp depending on their temperament. Once you house them together, you need to make sure that your betta is going to leave your shrimps be. This can be accomplished by:

  • Choosing a betta that is used to live if shrimps;
  • Providing plenty of hiding spaces for both fish and shrimp;
  • Making sure the tank is big enough;
  • Introducing the cherry shrimp first;
  • Having water parameters that suit both species;
  • Feeding them different food.

Choosing a betta that is used to live if shrimps

By picking a betta that already lives in a community tank with shrimp and other fish you’ll have a good indicator that they can be good tank mates. If you are aggressive, the chances of them attacking your shrimps are exponentially high.

Providing plenty of hiding spaces for both fish and shrimp

The tank must have driftwood and moss, as well as other plants, which is going to provide shelters from your betta. Your betta will also love it as it will have a lot of hiding places, which make your fish feel safer.

Make sure the tank is big enough

When there’s enough space, your betta will feel calmer and consequently, less prone to attack. Your cherry shrimp and bettas have a tank of at least 10 gallons volume, your shrimp will have plenty of space to move around, and not be directly on your betta’s line of sight.

Introducing the cherry shrimp first

Bettas are very territorial and can attack tank mates when it feels threatened. When you add your shrimp first, your betta will not feel as threatened as it will enter another tank mate’s territory. Unlike having their territory invaded, they’ll find some territory to claim as their own. Make sure your tank is fully cycled before adding shrimp as they’re very sensitive to ammonia.

Having water parameters that suit both species

Both betta and cherry shrimp are tropical freshwater organisms with similar water parameters. Bettas need a temperature between 76 and 82 F (24.4 and 27.8 °C) and a pH level around 5.5 and 7.0. Cherry shrimp thrive on temperatures between 77 and 81F (25 and 27.2 °C), and a pH between 6.2 to 7.3. Hence, getting your tank to a pH of 7.0 and a temperature of 78 F (25.6 °C) will keep both tank mates happy.

Feeding them different food

Bettas are carnivores while cherry shrimp are omnivores. So, in a way, their diet could be composed of similar food like high protein fish food, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, brine shrimp, among others. They will both be very happy and your cherry shrimps will feed on anything that reaches the bottom of the tank. Your cherry shrimps will also eat algae and moss from your tank.

It’s important not to overfeed your betta so your shrimp can eat whatever’s left. To avoid conflicts over food which can potentially lead to bettas attacking your shrimp, try to feed them in separate corners of your tank. Also, you can try to feed your bettas with floating food and your shrimps with food that will sink to the bottom of the tank. Everyone wins!

Conclusion

Betta fish are known to be aggressive carnivores while cherry shrimps defenseless prey. Thus, one would think that they could not be housed in the same tank.

To make up for the fact they can be easy targets, cherry shrimp have great abilities that prevent them from becoming fish food. In an aquarium layout that mimics their natural habitat with a lot of plants, moss, crevices, rocks, and driftwood, cherry shrimps can hide and not be seen by your bettas.

Additionally, betta fish are top-dwellers while cherry shrimps stay mostly near the bottom of the tank. So, they will not frequently see each other, which prevents any predatory behavior from bettas.

Both betta and cherry shrimp are fairly easy to care for when in a community tank, as long as their needs are met. Their diet and water parameters are similar. However, it is of utmost importance that levels of ammonia and nitrate are controlled. High levels of these elements can be lethal to your cherry shrimp. Hence, a filtration system with a low flow, and lots of plants will assist you with that.

Cherry Shrimps can be awesome tank mates to your betta. As long as their needs are met, they can peacefully cohabit with bettas. And don’t forget, at the first sign of attack, remove your betta to a spare tank. Do you have bettas and cherry shrimps in your tank? Let us know in the comments!

Reference

Barrington, K. n.d. The right way to care for Betta fish. Talkfishy.com. 45 p.

Werner, U. (2003) Aqualog Special – Shrimps, Crayfishes and Crabs in the Freshwater Aquarium. Aquaristik – Consulting & Service GmbH. 48 p.

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?