Do Shrimp Need A Filter? – Building A No Filter Shrimp Tank!

Shrimp are fascinating creatures that are often found in freshwater and saltwater aquariums, with hobbyists marveling at their unique behaviors and appearances. One common question that arises among shrimp enthusiasts is whether or not shrimp need a filter in their tank environment.

Aquatic environments such as aquariums need some type of filtration systems to maintain pristine water conditions but this does not have to be a traditional mechanical filter.

However, shrimp thrive in environments with little to no traditional filtration due to their hardy nature. This is usually due to plants or chemicals providing some type of filtration for their tank.

Despite the fact that shrimp can survive without a filter, incorporating one into their habitat leads to a host of benefits, including improved water quality and a more natural emulation of their native habitats. As such, while not completely necessary, incorporating a filter catered towards shrimp safety will result in a more robust and thriving invertebrate community within an aquarium setting.

Do Shrimp Need A Filter In Their Tank?

do shrimp need a filter
A Green Jade Shrimp

Shrimp don’t need a traditional mechanical filter in their tank but some type of filtration should be offered unless you want to do hefty water changes in your shrimp tank on a regular basis.

Here are the three most popular filtration methods for shrimp tanks:

Mechanical Filtration:

  • Sponge Filters: Great for shrimp tanks, they provide gentle filtration and are shrimp-safe.
  • Canister Filters: These can be used, but the intake must be covered with a sponge or guard to prevent shrimp from being sucked in.

Chemical Filtration:

  • Activated Carbon: Removes odors, discolorations, and impurities.
  • Zeolite: Can be used to remove ammonia, especially in a newly set-up tank.
  • Purigen: A synthetic resin that helps control ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

Biological Filtration:

  • Live Plants: Provide natural filtration by absorbing harmful substances like nitrites and ammonia.
  • Bio Balls, Ceramic Rings, or Sintered Glass: Used in canister or hang-on-back filters to host beneficial bacteria that break down waste products.
  • Undergravel Filters: Using a biological process, these filters pull water through the gravel, which acts as a filter medium.

The live plant filtration method is commonly referred to as the Walstad method, which uses live plants to filter the water. This natural approach relies on live plants to maintain water parameters and is the most popular option for our own filterless shrimp tank setups.

Our graphic below goes over how this system works by creating a continuous circle that supports the closed ecosystem to help filter your shrimp tank’s water supply.

How A Walstad Shrimp Bowl Works.

Choose The Right Tank Size For Your Filterless Shrimp Tank

A Blue bolt Caridina Shrimp
A Blue bolt Caridina Shrimp

When planning a filterless shrimp tank, it’s important to consider the tank size and how it will affect the overall health of your shrimp and the ecosystem. A 1-gallon shrimp tank or a small shrimp jar is a common choice for beginners, as they can function effectively without a filter.

However, it’s crucial to understand that space can be at a premium in small filterless shrimp tanks, especially those using the Walstad method. Live plants utilized for filtration may occupy a significant amount of space within the tank, especially if you choose plants that grow at a rapid pace.

Larger tanks such as 2, 3, 5, 10, and even 20 gallons can also be successful in maintaining a stable filterless shrimp environment. When moving to larger tanks, it’s essential to monitor the water parameters and adjust the plants and other elements in the tank accordingly.

Cherry Shrimp can work well in filterless tanks

If you are new to keeping filterless shrimp tanks, we would highly recommend that you stick with something between the 1-5 gallon mark. This offers plenty of space to take advantage of this method while you gain experience with this type of tank setup.

Larger tanks can accommodate more shrimp, and it’s critical to strike a balance between the tank’s capacity and the number of shrimp contained within.

Keep in mind that tanks larger than 20 gallons are usually better with fish and a filtration system with the shrimp usually being used as the clean-up crew. These larger tanks typically host more complex ecosystems, requiring a balance between the shrimp, plants, and other aquatic life inhabiting the tank as well as a traditional filter.

Selecting the appropriate tank size for your filterless shrimp aquarium depends on factors such as the number of shrimp you plan to keep, the type of plants used for natural filtration, and the space available for the tank in your home. By confidently choosing the right tank size and considering these factors, you increase the likelihood of creating a thriving, healthy shrimp environment without the need for a traditional filter.

Getting The Perfect Shrimp

A cherry shrimp and an amano shrimp in a filterless shrimp tank
A Cherry Shrimp And An Amano Shrimp

There really is a huge range of different shrimp within the aquarium-keeping hobby that allows you to choose from a large range of colors, patterns, sizes, and behaviors. Most beginners are attracted to the brightly colored neocaridina shrimp as they look cool and catch the eye.

As it happens, one of the various types of neocaridina shrimp is our default recommendation for beginners looking to keep a filterless shrimp tank. Not only are they very colorful but they are also pretty hardy making them easy to care for.

Our graphic below goes over the six most popular types of neocaridina shrimp so you can get a good idea of what they look like.

Different types of shrimp for aquariums

Here is a little breakdown of each of the shrimp that we recommend:

  • Cherry Shrimp: Known for their vibrant red color, these are hardy and easy to care for, making them popular choices for beginners.
  • Yellow Shrimp: Their bright yellow hue adds a pop of color to any aquarium, and like Cherry Shrimp, they are generally easy to maintain.
  • Blue Dream Shrimp: With their eye-catching blue shade, these shrimp remain hardy and adaptable, making them another great choice for filtered tanks.
  • Snowball Shrimp: Their translucent white color offers a unique aesthetic in contrast to the other vibrant species, and they are relatively hardy as well.
  • Green Jade Shrimp: Sporting a vivid green hue, these shrimp may require a bit more care than other species, but they remain suitable for filtered aquariums.
  • Chocolate Shrimp: Their deep brown color is truly distinctive, and their hardy nature makes them a solid choice for filtered tanks.

Amano shrimp and ghost shrimp can also work well in tanks that are 3 gallons or over:

  • Amano Shrimp: Known for their excellent algae-eating capabilities, these shrimp are a practical addition to any filtered environment.
  • Ghost Shrimp: As transparent scavengers, they are versatile and adaptable, making them well-suited for filtered aquariums.

Please note, we usually only recommend that you keep one type of shrimp in this kind of tank. Technically, you can keep cherry shrimp and amano shrimp in the same tank but it is so much easier if you stick to a single species.

Most people will be better off opting to keep cherry shrimp in their tanks due to their low price, hardy nature, and how easy it is to find them in local fish stores.

An infographic of a cherry shrimp care sheet

Choosing Your Live Plants!

A yellow shrimp in a filterless shrimp tank
A Yellow Shrimp

Incorporating a variety of live plants in a shrimp tank plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy environment for the shrimp. These plants help keep the water clean by absorbing waste and providing oxygen, effectively acting as a natural filter in the tank setup.

Choosing live plants for a shrimp tank involves finding plants that are suitable for the water parameters in the tank. It is important to research each plant’s specific requirements and environmental preferences, such as temperature and pH range, to ensure compatibility with the shrimp species being kept.

You also have to factor in the size of your tank as smaller tanks are usually not suitable for fast-growing plants unless you will trim your plants once per week.

Here are some commonly used plants for this type of shrimp tank that work well as a natural filter to help keep water parameters in check:

  1. Anacharis (Elodea densa): Grows quickly and helps absorb excess nutrients.
  2. Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri): Excellent for shrimp to forage in.
  3. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus): Slow-growing and easy to maintain.
  4. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus): A larger plant that can be a centerpiece.
  5. Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata): Good for creating a grass-like carpet.
  6. Cryptocoryne wendtii: Comes in various colors and grows well in low light.
  7. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum): Fast-growing and helps with water quality.
  8. Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides): Good for background planting.
  9. Duckweed (Lemna minor): A floating plant that can provide shade and help with nutrient absorption.
  10. Anubias (various species): Slow-growing and hardy; good for attaching to rocks or driftwood.
  11. Rotala rotundifolia: Adds a splash of color and grows well in various conditions.
  12. Ludwigia repens: Another colorful option, but may require more light.
  13. Vallisneria (various species): Can create a tall, grassy backdrop.
  14. Hygrophila (various species): Versatile and adaptable to different lighting conditions.
  15. Marimo Moss Balls (Aegagropila linnaei): Unique and requires very little maintenance.

By incorporating a mix of these live plants, shrimp tank owners can ensure that their natural filtration system is effective and create a visually appealing and stimulating environment for the shrimp. Depending on the size of your tank, you can create a number of different aquascape setups that look great.

Substrate Selection

A cherry Shrimp In A Shrimp Tank
A Cherry Shrimp

When setting up a shrimp tank, selecting the right substrate is crucial not only for the shrimp’s well-being but also for maintaining water quality and providing a proper environment for the shrimp. There are several types of substrates to consider, each with its unique benefits and drawbacks.


Soil substrate is an excellent option as it is specifically designed for planted aquariums. It contains beneficial bacteria and nutrients that promote healthy plant growth. This type of substrate allows plant roots to anchor firmly, creating a stable environment for shrimp. In addition, the bacteria in the soil break down waste, helping to keep the water clean and maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the tank.


Sand substrate is another viable choice, especially for shrimp keepers who are more focused on aesthetics. Sand creates a smooth and natural look in the tank, mimicking the shrimp’s natural environment. However, it is important to note that sand can compact over time, which may negatively affect water quality. To prevent this issue, use fine-grained sand and stir it occasionally to ensure proper water circulation.


Gravel substrate is also suitable for shrimp tanks, as it allows water to flow freely through its gaps. Gravel is available in various sizes and colors, offering a range of customization options for your tank. However, larger pieces of gravel might not create enough surface area for beneficial bacteria to colonize and might be challenging for smaller shrimp species to navigate. Opting for small granule-sized gravel can help provide an optimal environment for your shrimp.

Regardless of the type of substrate you choose, it is essential to properly rinse and prepare it before adding it to your tank. This will help remove any dust or impurities that could cloud the water or harm your shrimp. Additionally, monitor and adjust the water quality parameters as needed to ensure a healthy habitat for your shrimp.

Lighting Setup

A blue dream shrimp on a leaf
A Blue Dream Shrimp

Lighting is one of the most important factors in setting up a shrimp tank, as it significantly affects the growth and health of the aquatic plants. Since shrimp thrive in well-planted environments, ensuring proper lighting conditions is crucial for their overall well-being.

When setting up the lighting for a shrimp tank, consider the duration of exposure to light, intensity, and spectrum. Typically, a photoperiod of 8 to 10 hours per day is sufficient for most planted shrimp tanks. However, it is essential to monitor the tank for any signs of algae growth, as too much light can lead to excessive algae, which can harm the shrimp.

Selecting the right light spectrum and intensity is also vital for optimal growth of aquatic plants. Aim for a full-spectrum light with a color temperature between 5,000 to 7,000 Kelvin. This range promotes healthy plant and shrimp growth without encouraging excessive algae production. Additionally, the light intensity should be adjusted according to the needs of the specific plant species present in the tank.

A walstad shrimp tank with the shrimp added

When choosing hardware for the shrimp tank’s lighting setup, pay attention to energy efficiency and heat output. LED lights are an excellent choice, as they consume less energy and produce minimal heat compared to other lighting options. Moreover, they are available in various configurations, making it easier to find one suitable for the tank’s size and layout.

In summary, proper lighting plays a crucial role in establishing a thriving and healthy shrimp tank. Ensure the photoperiod, spectrum, and intensity are suitable for the plant species within the tank while also being mindful of preventing excessive algae growth. Opt for energy-efficient and heat-minimizing lighting options such as LED lights to maintain an ideal environment for your shrimp.

Cycle The Tank

A chocolate shrimp in a shrimp tank
A Chocolate Shrimp

Cycling the tank is a crucial step in ensuring a healthy environment for your shrimp. It refers to the process of establishing beneficial bacteria within the tank, which helps to break down waste products such as ammonia and nitrite. These toxins can be harmful to shrimp, and the presence of beneficial bacteria, also known as the nitrogen cycle, helps to keep their levels in check.

There are a number of different methods you can use to cycle the tank and most of them will work well.

This is the setup and cycle method that we recommend when setting up a filterless shrimp tank for the first time:

1. Setup Your Shrimp Tank:

  • Substrate: Depending on your choice, add gravel, sand, or a special shrimp substrate which can help in maintaining a slightly acidic pH.
  • Decorations and Plants: Install any decorations or live plants. Live plants can help absorb excess nutrients and can also help stabilize the tank.
  • Filtration: Set up your filter. Sponge filters are often preferred for shrimp because they’re gentle and won’t suck up baby shrimp.
  • Water: Fill the tank with dechlorinated water. You can dechlorinate tap water using a water conditioner.

2. Start the Nitrogen Cycle:

  • Introduce Ammonia Source: Add a source of ammonia to start the cycle. You can use liquid ammonia (make sure it’s free of additives), or a pinch of fish flakes. The goal is to achieve an ammonia concentration of 2-4 ppm.
  • Monitor Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate: Using a freshwater test kit, test the water every other day. Initially, you will see a rise in ammonia, followed by a rise in nitrites. Over time, as beneficial bacteria establish, both will decrease, and you will begin to see nitrates.

3. Maintain and Monitor:

  • Water Changes: If ammonia or nitrite levels exceed 5 ppm, do a small water change (about 20%) to bring them down.
  • Maintain a Stable Temperature: Beneficial bacteria grow best at temperatures between 70°F to 85°F (21°C to 29°C).
  • Aerate: Ensure there’s enough oxygen for the bacteria. If you have a filter, this is usually taken care of. Otherwise, consider an air stone.

4. Complete the Cycle:

  • Your tank is cycled when ammonia and nitrite levels read 0 ppm over several days, and you have a reading of nitrates. This process can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks.

5. Introduce Shrimp:

  • Acclimate: Slowly acclimate shrimp to their new environment. Drip acclimation is often recommended because of the sensitivity of shrimp to changes in water parameters.
  • Start Slowly: Add a few shrimp at first, monitor them for a few days, then add more.

Tips to Speed Up Cycling:

  • Seed Your Tank: Use filter media, substrate, or water from an established aquarium to introduce beneficial bacteria to your tank.
  • Bacterial Starters: There are commercial products available that contain live beneficial bacteria to help jumpstart the process.

Water Parameters

A Black Sakura in a filterless shrimp tank
A Black Sakura Shimp

When setting up a filterless shrimp tank, it’s crucial to monitor and maintain the appropriate water parameters. Shrimp, such as Cherry shrimp, need specific conditions to thrive. Balancing these parameters is essential, especially if you have live plants in the aquarium as well.

Cherry shrimp require the following water parameters:

  • Water Temperature: 57-86F
  • Water Flow: Still-Low
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • GH: 6-8 dGH
  • KH: 2-8 dKH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: < 20ppm

One critical aspect to consider is the water temperature. Shrimp typically prefer a temperature range of 57-86F. Water flow also plays a significant role, with shrimp favoring a still to low water movement.

Furthermore, the pH level should be within the range of 6.5-8 for Cherry shrimp. Keep in mind that maintaining the appropriate pH is crucial for their health. The general hardness (GH) and carbonate hardness (KH) of the water should be 6-8 dGH and 2-8 dKH, respectively. These parameters contribute to the overall water quality and, ultimately, the shrimp’s well-being.

To avoid ammonia and nitrite toxicity, it’s essential to keep their levels at 0 ppm. Similarly, nitrate levels should be maintained at less than 20 ppm. High levels of these compounds can be detrimental to the health of your shrimp.

In conclusion, maintaining a consistent and balanced water environment is vital for the survival and well-being of shrimp. Keeping track of the mentioned parameters and adjusting them accordingly ensures a healthy and thriving shrimp community in your aquarium.

Food Options For Your Shrimp

A blue carbon shrimp in the tank
A Blue Carbon Shrimp

Shrimp are opportunistic feeders and can sustain themselves on a variety of food sources. In a tank with live plants, they will naturally graze on the algae and biofilm that grow on surfaces. These are essential food sources for shrimp, providing them with the necessary nutrients and minerals for good health.

In addition to algae and biofilm, shrimp can be offered supplementary treats. Some options include:

  • Vegetables: Blanched spinach, zucchini, and cucumber are excellent choices. Keep the portions small and remove any uneaten parts after a few hours.
  • Commercial shrimp food: Specially formulated pellets or powders provide essential nutrients for the shrimp.
  • Frozen or live foods: Brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms can be given occasionally as a treat.
An infographic going over Treat Food Options For Shrimp Jars

It is crucial to avoid overfeeding your shrimp because uneaten food can quickly pollute the water, leading to unfavorable conditions and potential health issues for your shrimp. To prevent this, feed your shrimp sparingly and observe their feeding habits. As a general rule, provide only as much food as they can consume within a couple of hours. Any leftovers should be promptly removed from the tank.

In summary, a balanced diet consisting of live plants, algae, biofilm, and various treat foods will help your shrimp thrive. Keep in mind the importance of monitoring feeding habits and adjusting the amount of food offered to ensure optimal water quality and shrimp health.

Regular Maintenance

An Amano shrimp in a shrimp tank with no filter
An Amano Shrimp

Regular maintenance of a shrimp tank is essential, whether or not a filter is present. In the absence of a filter, consistent and proper maintenance takes on even greater importance. Shrimp might not require filters to survive, but a well-maintained tank will provide them with a healthier environment, promoting their overall well-being.

One of the key aspects of regular maintenance is monitoring water parameters through regular water tests. Keeping an eye on parameters such as ammonia levels, pH, and temperature will help identify any irregularities that can cause harm to the shrimps. High ammonia levels, for instance, are toxic to both plants and animals in the tank, including the shrimp themselves.

It is generally recommended to perform a 25-30% water change every 1-2 weeks for a well-established shrimp tank. This practice helps offset any fluctuations in water quality that may arise due to waste accumulation and other factors. However, the ideal water change schedule can vary depending on the specific conditions of your shrimp tank, so it is essential to regularly monitor water parameters and adjust as needed.

Another important aspect of maintenance is ensuring that the tank is clean and free of debris. Shrimp, like other aquatic creatures, produce waste, which contributes to the growth of bacteria and can affect water quality. Regular cleaning of the tank, both in terms of substrate and surfaces, will help maintain a hygienic environment for the shrimp to thrive in.

Taking these maintenance steps will contribute to a balanced tank environment, providing optimal conditions for shrimp and ensuring their continued health.

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