Do Ghost Shrimp Need a Filter?

Ghost shrimp are a popular freshwater crustacean found in aquariums around the world. Their transparent bodies and energetic movements make them fun additions to community tanks. But, setting up a suitable habitat for these delicate invertebrates requires understanding their needs. One of the most common questions new ghost shrimp owners ask is: do they require a filter in their tank?

This article will examine the importance of filtration in maintaining water quality for captive shrimp. We’ll examine whether ghost shrimp can survive without a filter and how long. The role of plants as natural filters will also be discussed. In addition, we’ll explore the effects of oxygenation, temperature control, tank inhabitants, and diet on water conditions. With these factors covered, we’ll review the filters best suited for a ghost shrimp aquarium.

The Importance of Filters in Aquariums

Filters are critical components of stable, healthy aquarium ecosystems. They serve three primary purposes: mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

Mechanical filtration involves physically removing solid particles from the water column. Filters trap debris like uneaten food, plant matter, and shrimp waste. Without mechanical filtration, these materials accumulate and decompose, degrading water quality.

Biological filtration is when beneficial bacteria convert toxic ammonia and nitrite into less harmful nitrate. These bacteria colonize on filter media, breaking down nitrogenous waste excreted by animals in the tank. Without enough biological filtration, ammonia and nitrite can spike to dangerous levels.

Chemical filtration uses filter media like activated carbon to adsorb dissolved organic compounds from the water. This helps reduce discoloration, odors, and some toxins.

For ghost shrimp, perhaps the most important filter function is biological filtration. Shrimp are especially sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, which can be rapidly produced in their densely stocked tanks. A filter housing a robust bacteria colony is key to maintaining the required water quality.

What is the best filter for ghost shrimp?

The ideal filter for a ghost shrimp tank provides generous biological and mechanical filtration in a low-flow system. Standard HOB (hang-on-back) power filters often create too strong a current for shrimp comfort. Sponge filters and canister filters with spray bars are excellent alternatives. Their gentler water movement and large media capacity suit these passive invertebrates.

Can Ghost Shrimp Live Without a Filter?

While filters are recommended for ghost shrimp tanks, some owners insist they can be kept without them under specific conditions. Shrimp may survive filter-free for a short time in a mature tank with only a few inhabitants. The already established nitrogen cycle allows waste processing without a filter. However, even cycled tanks will eventually see rising ammonia and nitrite as animal waste accumulates.

Planted tanks with very light bioloads could sustain ghost shrimp without a longer-term filter. The plants can uptake some nitrogenous compounds while helping oxygenate the water. However, without mechanical filtration, debris will collect on plants and substrate. As it decomposes, this material releases additional harmful chemicals. Significant water changes would be required to reset water parameters and siphon waste.

Even in ideal scenarios, most experts warn that a filter-free system is risky over the long term. Issues can arise rapidly if bioload increases, plants are disturbed, or water changes lapse. The filter provides a crucial safety net, processing waste and preventing toxin spikes that can wipe out shrimp.

How long can ghost shrimp live without a filter?

Ghost shrimp may survive without a filter for 2-6 weeks in an established tank with a light bioload and plenty of plants. However, their overall health will likely suffer from declining water quality. Adding a filter is highly recommended to ensure good water parameters for the long-term.

The Role of Plants in a Shrimp Tank

While plants cannot entirely replace a filter, they play an important complementary role. As autotrophs, aquatic plants can use nitrogen compounds like ammonium and nitrate. Their presence reduces the bioload impact on water conditions.

Additionally, planted tanks typically have higher dissolved oxygen levels. Plant photosynthesis releases oxygen into the water, creating a more breathable habitat. More oxygen means the tank can support a higher stocking density of ghost shrimp and other inhabitants.

Plants also provide valuable microhabitats for shrimp. Moss, floating, and dense stem plants give perch, explore, and hide opportunities. This enrichment can help shrimp behave more naturally and feel secure.

Finding the right balance is key when using plants in a shrimp tank. A densely planted tank with a conservative stocking level may keep water parameters stable without a filter for some time. But heavily planted systems still need mechanical filtration to prevent debris accumulation. A robust filter combined with moderate planting is recommended for optimal long-term results.

Can shrimp live without filter if there are plants?

While plants are beneficial, a filter remains essential for maintaining the water quality and clarity that shrimp need. Plants alone cannot process all the waste produced in a tank, even lightly stocked. A filter is still required to remove debris and house nitrifying bacteria. However, pairing plants with a suitable filter creates ideal conditions for long-term shrimp health.

Air Pumps and Oxygenation

In addition to filtration, oxygenation is vital in any aquatic habitat. Just like fish, ghost shrimp require sufficiently oxygenated water to survive.

At night, when photosynthesis halts, oxygen levels can drop. Warmer water also holds less dissolved oxygen. An air pump and airstone diffuser can help counteract these effects. The airstone bubbles the water surface, driving gas exchange with the atmosphere. This adds supplemental oxygen when levels decline.

Well-oxygenated water promotes active, healthy shrimp. It also supports the beneficial bacteria that require oxygen to convert ammonia and nitrite.

Natural surface agitation and photosynthesis may provide enough oxygenation during daylight hours in tanks with low bioloads and vigorous plant growth. But nighttime oxygen can still drop dangerously low without air circulation. An air pump and airstone 24/7 is recommended to maintain stable, oxygen-rich conditions in any shrimp aquarium.

Do ghost shrimp need an air pump?

While not strictly necessary in all setups, an air pump is highly recommended. Running it 24 hours a day protects against overnight oxygen crashes that can suffocate shrimp. Reliable aeration also optimizes the nitrogen cycle, creating a healthier habitat.

Temperature Control in a Shrimp Tank

As poikilotherms, the internal body temperature of ghost shrimp matches their environment. They rely on water temperature control to remain healthy.

Ghost shrimp prefer water between 70-80°F. Prolonged exposure to temperatures outside this range can stress shrimp and increase disease susceptibility. Rapid temperature changes can also shock their systems.

Heaters help maintain a stable, ideal temperature for ghost shrimp year-round. They prevent stressful drops that can occur at night or with seasonal cooling.

Chillers can be added during summer to avoid overheating in hot regions. But most hobbyists find frequent partial water changes sufficient to counter increased temperatures. The new water resets the tank to room temperature.

Sometimes, room temperature alone may keep water within an acceptable range for ghost shrimp. But a heater still provides insurance against unpredictably cool nights or seasons.

Do ghost shrimp need a heater?

While ghost shrimp may survive without a heater in warm regions, using one is recommended. It prevents temperature fluctuations that could stress shrimp and impact their health and behavior. A reliable heater set between 70-80°F is ideal for ghost shrimp year-round.

Choosing the Right Filter for Your Ghost Shrimp

When selecting a filter for ghost shrimp, key factors to consider include:

  • Flow rate: The filter should not generate too strong of a current. Slow to moderate flow works best.
  • Media capacity: Look for models with space to house plenty of biological media like foam or ceramic rings. This ensures adequate waste processing.
  • Type: Sponge, canister, and low-flow power filters tend to work well. Avoid models with high gph (gallon per hour) flow rates.
  • Size: Match the filter capacity to the tank – overfiltering is better than underfiltering.
  • Adjustability: Having control over flow rate allows customization for optimum shrimp conditions.

Shrimp filter guard

Adding a filter guard or pre-filter sponge prevents baby shrimp from accidentally being sucked into the intake. This added protection is highly recommended for a thriving community.

Types of Filters Suitable for Ghost Shrimp

There are several filter options well-suited for maintaining good water quality in a ghost shrimp tank:

Sponge Filters

Sponge filters are a popular choice for shrimp tanks. They provide mechanical and biological filtration in a low-flow setup well-suited to shrimp.

  • Hydro Sponge Filters: Affordable filters ideal for 5-20 gallon nano shrimp tanks. Available in different sizes.
  • XY-2831 Sponge Filter: Features an air-lift design that adds water circulation. Good for tanks up to 29 gallons.
  • Marina Slim S-10: Slim profile takes up less space. It is rated for 10 gallon tanks.

Undergravel Filters

Undergravel filters sit below the substrate and rely on beneficial bacteria colonies in the gravel bed.

  • Lee’s Triple Flow Undergravel Filter: Lifts debris into the water column for removal. They are designed for tanks up to 60 gallons.
  • Aqueon Substrate Filter Plates: Convert gravel into a natural filtration bed. Use with powerheads for flow.

Canister Filters

Canister filters offer large media capacity for biological filtration. They can be customized to create a low-flow output.

  • Fluval 207 Canister Filter: Handles tanks up to 45 gallons. Flow rate adjustable from 106 to 225 gph.
  • Marineland Magniflow C-Series: Available for tanks 30 to 100 gallons. Contains bio-filter balls and ceramic rings.
  • Eheim Classic 350: Comes with spray bar and valves to control outflow. It is rated for tanks up to 95 gallons.

Internal Power Filters

These economical filters mount inside the tank. Models with adjustable flow available.

  • Marineland Penguin Filter: Flow controlled via adjustable mid-level strainer. For tanks up to 50 gallons.
  • AquaClear Power Filters: Flow can be adapted via intake stem height adjustment and rated for tanks up to 110 gallons.

Feeding and Nutrition

In addition to filtration and water quality, proper nutrition is vital for ghost shrimp health. While omnivores, ghost shrimp thrive best on a primarily herbivorous diet in captivity.

Some key dietary considerations include:

  • Protein sources: Offer shrimp pellets, blanched veggies, algae wafers or bottom feeder tablets to provide protein in moderation.
  • Grazers: Shrimp will graze on algae, aufwuchs, and biofilm naturally occurring in the tank.
  • Supplements: Add calcium-rich foods like spinach or kale to support exoskeleton growth after molting.
  • Overfeeding: Uneaten food negatively impacts water parameters. Feed only as much as shrimp will consume within a few hours.

By feeding a varied shrimp-specific diet in appropriate amounts, waste production can be minimized. This reduces the bioload impact on water conditions between filter maintenance and water changes.

What do ghost shrimp eat?

Ghost shrimp are omnivores and opportunistic eaters. In the wild they consume plant matter, algae, insect larvae, and carrion. In captivity they thrive on protein-rich shrimp pellets supplemented with calcium-rich vegetables like spinach. They also graze readily on algae and biofilms within the tank.


Can ghost shrimp live without air pump?

While not strictly necessary, an air pump is highly recommended to maintain oxygenation, especially at night. This promotes shrimp health and the nitrogen cycle.

Do shrimp need a heater?

Yes, a heater between 70-80°F is ideal to keep water temperature stable for ghost shrimp year-round. Fluctuations can cause stress and health issues.

How long can ghost shrimp live without a filter?

In an established, lightly stocked planted tank, they may survive up to 2-6 weeks. But water quality will degrade without filtration, eventually endangering shrimp health.

Can shrimp live without filter if there are plants?

Plants can help but are not a substitute for filtration. While beneficial, plants cannot entirely process waste or remove debris like a filter can.

What is the best filter for ghost shrimp?

Sponge, canister, and low-flow power filters with adjustable flow rates work well. Models that provide generous biological media space without too strong a current are ideal.

Do shrimp need a filter and heater?

A filter and heater are recommended to maintain suitable water quality and temperatures for ghost shrimp health and longevity.

Is a Highly-Planted Tank Sufficient for Ghost Shrimp?

While certainly beneficial, even a heavily planted tank likely cannot provide filtration at the level needed to maintain optimal water quality for shrimp indefinitely. The plants help uptake some waste and provide oxygen, but debris accumulation can still become an issue over time without mechanical filtration. Ultimately the filter provides vital biological filtration to process all nitrogenous waste. So while plants are a big help, they are likely not a complete substitute for a filter in a ghost shrimp tank.

How Do Filters Impact the Overall Ecosystem of a Shrimp Tank?

Filters strongly influence the nitrogen cycle, oxygenation, and water flow within a shrimp tank – key parameters that affect inhabitants. The filter bacteria convert ammonia into nitrate, keeping toxins in check. Filters also drive oxygen exchange at the water surface. And controlled filter outflow can promote beneficial water circulation without being too disruptive. Appropriate filtration creates a clean, oxygenated, and balanced ecosystem for shrimp health. Removing it would allow waste accumulation, oxygen crashes, and stagnation that jeopardize organisms in the tank.

What Are the Risks of Not Using a Filter in a Ghost Shrimp Tank?

Lack of filtration can compromise water quality in several ways. With no mechanical filtration, uneaten food and waste will accumulate. As this debris decomposes it releases ammonia, nitrite, hydrogen sulfide and other toxins into the water. These compounds can spike to dangerous levels very quickly without biological filtration to process them. And without surface agitation from a filter, nighttime oxygen depletion can occur. The combination of high toxins and low oxygen is often lethal. Shrimp are especially vulnerable, given their sensitivity to water parameters. Lack of filtration puts their health and lives at great risk. Even in a cycled, planted tank, the margin of safety without a filter is very slim.


Maintaining proper water quality is critical when keeping ghost shrimp in captivity. While hardy crustaceans, ghost shrimp are sensitive to toxins like ammonia and nitrite that degrade water conditions. A filter is the most reliable way to keep these compounds in check by housing beneficial bacteria and removing solid wastes.

Filters also provide constant oxygenation and beneficial water circulation in shrimp tanks. While plants can supplement filtration through uptake of some nitrogenous waste, they cannot entirely replace the need for mechanical and biological filtration. Even heavily planted tanks require filter support to thrive long term.

When selecting a filter, look for adjustable low-flow models that offer ample media space for bacterial colonization. Combine the filter with moderate planting, a shrimp-specific diet, and proper tank maintenance. These steps allow ghost shrimp to thrive in clean, healthy water conditions.